ONE in three University of The Bahamas students who answered a survey have been raped – either in the form of sex without consent or statutory rape.
That’s just one of the terrifying details from a report published in the International Journal of Bahamian Studies.
Taking those two categories separately shows that 17 percent of woman – about one in six – old enough to give their consent have been raped. Those are horrifying numbers, and makes one wonder how this could be.
Digging deeper into the report shows some of the attitudes that underlie such behaviour. Nearly a third, for example, believe that rape cannot take place within a marriage. Around one in six said they had sex when their partner was physically or mentally unable to give consent.
That word consent is the crucial one – and it seems like too many do not know what it truly means. In fact, the report even suggested that many students failed to realise that they had been sexually abused or raped. A number also admitted to having sex with underage partners.
As the report says, “This suggests that students are either ignorant of the law or feel that the sexual partner in their private life is beyond the protection/reach of the law.”
What does this mean for public life beyond the walls of the university? Well, the report spells it out: “This is an attitude which was made evident in the marital rape debate and public comments made by government ministers who indicated that sexual intercourse, particularly within marriage, was a private matter and, so, beyond the reach of legislation to protect either party.”
In short, this is a question of an attitude that affects us all. It is not just a case of what is happening to students – as if that wasn’t bad enough.
This is our culture. This is our nation, in which we do not do enough to protect women from violence because too many of us do not perceive some of that violence as being wrong.
Men, too, suffer in this regard. While fewer have reportedly been affected by sexual violence, according to the report, none reported their rape. Not one. How can any of them receive the help they need to overcome abuse if they don’t feel they can raise their hand to ask for it?
We know these problems exist. It is shocking to see the extent of it laid out, but we know we must do better.
We know when we see reports such as this pointing it out. We know when we see the likes of the Zonta Club leading the way with their 16 Days of Activism held this month to stop violence against women, girls and children. We know when we see stories such as the killing of Alicia Sawyer, 30, and her eight-year-old daughter Ednique Wallace in September.
This violence is a continuum – and those who think they can get away with it will continue to perpetrate it. Consent is not a difficult concept to learn – shouldn’t we all be teaching our next generation what it means?
There are too many victims. That must change. And we are the ones who must change it.
A clear message
In this column yesterday, we noted a lack of a consistent, clear message to the tourism industry from the government – so we would be remiss if we did not note that Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar now agrees with that. At least… to some extent.
He said there was “an element of truth” to the criticisms from Sandals executive Adam Stewart about the uncertainty caused by ever-shifting protocols.
Of course, Mr D’Aguilar has contributed to that uncertainty, not least with his on-again, off-again approach to the use of rapid antigen tests for visitors.
He says of the antigen tests that he doesn’t think the cost involved in the changing decisions was “that significant” but that still misses the point that people don’t know what to expect from one week to another.
The challenges ahead of us remain clear – the stories today showing a drop of a third in profits at the main shipping port because of a lack of orders coming through, and the prospect of very limited cruise travel in the first quarter of next year clearly indicate things aren’t getting better in a hurry. We are in a holding pattern, waiting to see what will come next. The clearer the message from the government on that path, the better – whether that is for tourists, for curbside opening, and so on.
If people know what’s coming, they can plan. If the rules keep changing, no one knows what will come next.
So listen to that element of truth, Mr D’Aguilar, and we would say the same to the Prime Minister, Dr Hubert Minnis, and call on both to ensure all parts of government speak with one voice, and all parts of society can receive a clear message.