Addressing the rape culture in Trinbago

Distraught woman
Distraught woman (Photo credit: Keira Burton)

Since the conviction of R. Kelly, I thought it might be a good idea to talk about the rape culture in Trinidad and Tobago. When I refer to the rape culture, I mean the term used to normalize the acceptance of sexual violence and rape within any environment or society in Trinidad and Tobago and the world over. Our culture is enabled by unequal power relations and unhealthy social norms that drive attitudes, behaviours and beliefs about sexuality and gender which contribute to the pervasiveness of the culture that condones sexual violence, blaming the victims while condoning the atrocities of the perpetrator.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the rape culture is perpetrated and enabled by both men and women. In fact, many men believe we do not have a culture of rape but, instead, a culture of very sexualized females and it’s just part of the Caribbean culture to be sexual.  It is important to men to think of rape as a culture and not just as an individual act. If rape is a culture, then when rape happens or when sexual violence occurs, then it is not an individual event but a societal issue. The rape culture seems to have given men social licence to act in violent ways towards women and to create an environment of risk and fear for women.

Sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behaviour that occurs without explicit consent of the victim. In our culture, we often blame the victim to excuse the action of the perpetrator. By doing that, we shift the responsibility from ourselves as a collective body to protect and preserve life. The victim-blaming attitude is also embedded in a rape culture that is historically violent. Violence against women and girls occurs on the continuum of behaviours and the danger of victim-blaming is about shifting responsibility from the perpetrator to whom we say, “do not rape”, to the victim who is told, “do not get raped”. We often lay blame on the victim by saying, “it’s because you were dressed provocatively”, or “you chose to go out with this type of guy”, or “you went out too late at night”. There is always a reason why the blame is foisted on the woman.

But, how can men and women combat the rape culture to protect our growing society? A few things can be done; for example, curtail and avoid the language that is often used to objectify or degrade women and men within social and professional circles and speak out if you hear someone else making an offensive joke or trivializing rape. Believe the victims. This gives them the opportunity and open forum to share their very traumatizing experience. If a friend says that she/he has been raped, then you should take it seriously and be supportive. Think critically about the media’s message about women, men, relationships, and violence because in Trinbago not only have we perpetrated a rape culture but a violent one as well where women and girls are more likely to be the victims of violent crimes, sometimes resulting in death. We need to be respectful of others’ physical space even in casual situations because one’s personal space is like an invisible bubble that surrounds one. When people invade this space, it, naturally makes you feel uncomfortable, so respecting other people’s space is important to make them feel at ease. Avoid touching people when you speak. Casual touching has become acceptable among Trinbagonians social circles and it should be totally unacceptable.

Always, always, always communicate with sexual partners and do not assume consent. A large majority of rape occurs between people who are familiar with each other, and this can be avoided if communication is clear. Do not let stereotypes shape your actions. You are who you are and do not need to show others anything different. You do not need to shape your self-perception or your attitudes to relationships to conform to the rest of your social group or school environment to fit in. You should, instead, stand out and stand up against stereotypes and violence against women and girls and men.

Subrina Hall-Azih is a Trinidadian Educator residing in New York.

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