FRONT PORCH: Repudiating our culture of violence



OVER the past few weeks the country has witnessed a number of murders, including of women, with the death toll steadily climbing.

The killing of 21-year-old Heavenly Terveus in front of her one-month-old son shocked the country and again raised disturbing questions about our culture of violence, including violence against women.

The waste of life is heartbreaking and many have offered condolences to those who have lost loved ones. A bewildered public is left traumatized and wondering about the nature and the degree of the violence.

In the case of Ms Terveus, there appears to be failures on the part of the police and the state to protect her from her boyfriend Fenron Ferguson, who was out on bail and who committed suicide after killing the young lady at the dawn of adulthood.

There are improvements that need to be made in the criminal justice system. There is also the need for a new generation of domestic violence and gender-based violence laws.

But the ritual response by some politicians and religious leaders to enact harsher penalties for various violent crimes is insufficient. Such calls also ring hollow given the widespread misogyny in our culture and the failure to seriously address a culture and toleration of violence toward women.

Leslie Miller

The attitude was typified after then-Tall Pines Member of Parliament, Leslie Miller, stated in the House of Assembly in 2014: “That’s like beating your wife or your girlfriend every time you go home.

“You just beat her for looking at her. I love you. Boom, boom, boom. I had a girlfriend like that. When I didn’t beat her she used to tell me I ain’t love her no more cause I don’t hit her. But seriously I had one like that. I had one. She used to tell me...”

Former House Speaker Kendall Major tried to interject: “We know that you are joking with that.” But Mr Miller continued: “No, I serious with that. I tell her I get tired man. My hands hurting a little bit, give me a break. I am telling you the truth. One thing I don’t do is lie.”

In damage control mode, Mr Miller later said he was joking. To her credit, then-Long Island MP Loretta Butler Turner severely criticised the abusive and belligerent comments.

To the discredit of his fellow parliamentarians and others who often claim to be great champions of women’s rights, there was a disgraceful collective silence, a toleration of this instance of misogyny at the highest political levels. The silence sent a chilling message to the society, including to girls and boys.

After the killing of Ms Terveus, the Bahamas Christian Council issued a statement calling for amended laws and stiffer penalties in cases of domestic violence.

While there may be the need for certain legislation, there is a ritual response by some politicians and religious leaders after various notable high-profile crimes that is part of a hollow, retributive and uncreative mindset in response to violent crime.

There are already various laws and penalties on the books, a number of which require greater enforcement. The council’s statement read in part: “We are in a state of crisis and the only way we can make a change is if we all take a stand — not just to verbally express our dismay but to take definitive action that will result in meaningful change.

“We must amend laws dealing with domestic violence and stiffen the penalties for the perpetrators of these heinous crimes. We hereby appeal to all relevant stakeholders to join forces to do what is necessary to ensure that these and all other acts of violence and crimes are minimised and eliminated from our society.

“The BCC strongly encourages all churches to make this a core focus — to sound the alarm from the pulpits, to open your doors to those in need of counseling and to speak truth to power.

“We must be sensitive to the emotional and psychological needs of our citizens and remove any stigma that may prevent an individual from seeking help.

‘Blind eye’

“We have turned a blind eye to the social ills plaguing our country for too long and ‘the chicks have come home to roost’. The deterioration of the moral fabric of our society is haunting us and creating hell on earth.

“The BCC stands ready to lead the charge in reclaiming our nation and working in tandem with law enforcement to restore our country to law and order.”

These are fine words. But if the BCC is serious about “not just…verbally express[ing] our dismay but to take definitive action that will result in meaningful change”, it might begin with a full-throated support for marital rape laws.

A consistent of ethic of life and a seamless commitment to the dignity of all women, who should not be victims of male violence, mandates that the leaders and members of the council demonstrate their witness in meaningful ways and not just ritual statements.

Religious leaders like to say that it begins in the home and in the family. Then why are so many of them opposed to marital rape laws, outlawing the rape of a wife by her husband?

Aysha Taryam, a journalist in the United Arab Emirates, offers: “If we are to fight discrimination and injustice against women we must start from the home, for if a woman cannot be safe in her own house then she cannot be expected to feel safe anywhere.”

The blind eyes and deaf ears include religious fundamentalists and clerics who fail to see and hear the needs of women within their own families and communions, which is an integral part “of the moral fabric of our society”.

Athena Damianos, a noted former journalist, put it succinctly in a recent letter to the editor: “It may not have dawned on the president of the Bahamas Christian Council, but The Bahamas’ lack of regard for the well-being of females goes hand in hand with the level of gender-based violence in the country.

“Ponder this, Bishop Delton Fernander: The Bahamas is one of only 36 countries that hasn’t criminalised marital rape – that’s out of about 197 countries.

“And, of course, Bahamian women don’t have the same right to pass citizenship to their children as males, in no small measure due to the discriminatory propaganda springing from certain misogynist members of the clergy.

“What sort of message does this send to messed up people prone to violence? So, it’s OK to rape your wife and it’s OK to discriminate against women, but we wring our hands in despair when yet another girl or woman falls victim to gender violence?

“It’s time to stop giving comfort to the monsters. Outlaw marital rape and deal with the citizenship issue. Give girls and women the protection and respect they deserve.”

Crime and violence exists within a cultural context, the roots of which include patterns of misogyny and violence within a patriarchal culture, which normalises violence against girls and women.

Public silence

This includes public silence by leading women in politics who fervently claim to be advocates for women’s rights but who often fail to publicly condemn the misogynistic and brutal language and attitudes of male colleagues. Such silence is a form of complicity.

A number of the current female members of the Senate and House have spoken of the need to address domestic violence and marital rape. But they have heavy lifting ahead because of the entrenched attitudes of misogyny in general in the country and in particular among their political colleagues and many religious leaders.

These women may wish to review various international reports on violence against women, including a 2017 United National Development Programme Report, “From Commitment to Action: Policies to End Violence Against Women in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

The report notes The Bahamas, along with other countries in the Caribbean, require concentrated action on many fronts, including: a new generation of laws, better practices and enhanced programmatic responses in the areas of prevention, care for girls and women and consistent punishment for offenders.

The report notes: “The levels of violence against women faced in Latin America and the Caribbean are unacceptable. The region has the highest rate of non-couples related sexual violence in the world and the second highest rate of violence by partners or ex-partners (WHO, 2013); 3 of the 10 countries with the highest rates of violence against women and girls are in the Caribbean (Caribbean HDR, UNDP, 2012).”

There are many fronts on which we must address violence, including gender-based violence. This includes norms and practices such as “beating” children; the abusive language we easily hurl at others; the retributive mindset flowing from a deeply fundamentalist culture, and fostering in girls a greater sense of their innate dignity and worth.

If the BCC, political leaders and others who claim to respect women’s rights want to seriously address gender-based violence in action - and not just words in the moment - they should send the right messages and act to outlaw marital rape.

In failing to do so, their inaction and silence is a certain and egregious complicity, helping to perpetuate our culture of violence!


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