By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
THE 12 percent increase in rapes this year is not only “alarming” but is evidence The Bahamas has not given enough attention to “very serious” gender inequality issues, attorney Marion Bethel said yesterday.
On Wednesday, the Royal Bahamas Police Force released statistics that revealed the increase. This year as of December 18, there were 55 reported rape incidents, up six from the 49 cases in 2017.
While this is not surprising, Ms Bethel, who currently serves on the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (CEDAW), said it is troubling the government has not taken the issue seriously.
“It’s not just a question of the police force doing its work, it’s an overall government social problem that needs to be addressed in a multi-sectorial level and the government is obligated under the CEDAW convention to prevent rape,” Ms Bethel told The Tribune yesterday.
“The government was supposed to set up a gender-based violence authority at least two years ago. I don’t think that has happened as yet to provide an overall strategy as to how to address the issue of rape, which is really a serious problem for women and girls and so we really need to take this seriously. The government needs to take its state obligation seriously; we as a society really need to address this problem because it affects women’s productivity in the work place, it affects our homes, it affects women in the streets and it affects us at the employment level.
“It is a very serious problem that keeps getting skirted over when we talk about overall crime down.”
She continued: “So I am really saddened by this because it really speaks to the questions about what the government is doing under its obligation and what we as a society are doing to prevent and stop rape. There should be a zero tolerance to rape and this speaks to gender inequality.
“Rape and sexual assault against women are linked to gender inequality and the lack of empowerment economic and social empowerment of women. So if we move towards rectifying the issue of gender inequality we also begin to address this issue of sexual violence and sexual assault.
“Predominantly women are raped. Predominantly women are assaulted and that is because of the imbalance of power with men and women.
“This needs to be really addressed and the root causes of gender based violence against women needs to be addressed in this country. We need to do it now.”
The latest reported incident happened Saturday when an elderly woman was sexually assaulted during an armed robbery attack.
The incident took place shortly after 2pm in a home in the eastern district of New Providence.
Police said the woman was held at bay, robbed of cash and sexually assaulted before the assailant fled the house.
Police believe the incident was random and not connected to any other recent instance of sexual assault.
Though rare, sexual crimes against the elderly are not unprecedented. In 2014, a Royal Bahamas Defence Force officer was charged with attempting to rape a 78-year-old woman. That same year, a man was found guilty and sentenced to 11 years in prison for raping a 69-year-old woman.
The National Task Force for Gender Based Violence determined in 2016 that the Bahamas ranks number one for recorded rapes in the Caribbean region. From 2008 to 2012, annual police reports documented 9,045 instances where women were assaulted.
From 2003 to 2013, there were 1,109 reported rapes, The Tribune reported in 2016.
In January of this year, police said reported cases of unlawful sexual intercourse increased between 2016 and 2017 from 87 to 107.