Post 319.

The Break the Silence Campaign, familiar to most because of its blue teddy bear symbol, enters its tenth year in 2019. Focusing on raising awareness about the prevalence of child sexual abuse and incest, providing training about these as issues of gender-based violence, and building communities around empowerment of children as part of prevention, the campaign has indeed seen silences broken.

There’s more reporting now than before, confusing our understanding about whether the rates have risen, or just the reporting, but confirming our position that too many children continue to be harmed.

There have been 11, 787 reports of children in need of care and protection since proclamation of the Children’s Authority. Over 2016-2017, there were 4, 232 reports of child abuse and maltreatment, averaging 353 reports per month. In relation into sexual abuse, girls are harmed at four times the rates of boys, but the rates of neglect and physical abuse are nearly the same, and in fact slightly higher for boys than girls.

At the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA) meeting yesterday, researchers highlighted childhood abuse, including sexual abuse, as a significant denominator among perpetrators.

Perpetrators also spoke about lacking healthy, involved and connected father figures. This doesn’t mean blaming women-headed households, which are managing the balance of both being freed from toxic masculinities while being burdened with unequal responsibilities.

It also doesn’t mean that it takes fathers to be fatherly figures or influential role models. It takes men in boys’ lives who care, enable them to feel accepted, and loved “like a son” so that boys don’t get used to “always walking around with hurt feelings as a young boy”.

CAFRA’s data is part of larger project to shift  cultural norms in order to end gender-based violence as it affects men, women, boys, girls, and especially those from marginalized groups defined by disability or sexual/gender orientation. This makes sense once you understand how striking the data is, and how complex explanations for it and solutions to it have to be.

In 2016, 3, 312 reports were made to the national domestic violence hotline, 150 to Rape Crisis Society, and 1, 141 to the TTPS. Why do hurt people feel safer to seek comfort from a stranger on the end of a phone than to reach out to the relevant authorities?

How were those lives lived after that call? Did the violence in that caller’s life end, and did it end with a perpetrator’s conviction for the crime of violence or with counseling as a path to accountability? Was there healing? Was there greater safety in our islands with as much as 1, 240 breaches of protection orders between 2009 and 2017? What happened to the children?

In the eighteen months between January 2016 and September 2017, ninety-nine women were murdered, but 857 men. As we think about the rates of boys and men murdering other boys and men in our society, who connects such killing to what we describe as domestic violence, or the ways that power is wielded in families that lead to experiences of trauma, harm and a will to hurt.

Even more significant, who has made the connection between child sexual abuse, neglect and physical abuse in boys’ lives, and their later actions that cause trauma, harm and death?

Currently, there is no national, state-led approach to prevention, prosecution and healing – including something as simple and necessary as age-appropriate curricula for primary schools that aim to change a culture that normalizes gender-based violence and forms of family abuse.

The Break the Silence Campaign is one example of a national focus on ending child sexual abuse and incest – which is so horrendous that it’s unbelievable we tolerate it enough as a society for it to exist. Any society that values family life above all else should have zero cases to report . What we have is a society that prioritizes fear, respectability, religiosity, discipline and silencing above children’s rights while children live amidst threat and vulnerability.

A decade on, the BTS campaign needs private sector and community infusion of support and investment so that it can continue to press against such silencing and violence for another ten years.

If we make the connections between child sexual abuse and incest, later domestic violence, and wider male violence and killing, we may prevent crimes before criminals are created. For the TTPS and its allies, this should be a priority, for it’s the more humane solution to the desperation of a shoot to kill policy.

 

 

 

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Entry 286.

Beyond the Bullet.

I met Caron Asgarali under the hot sun on International Women’s Day this year. We were standing amidst booths in Woodford Square when she told me her story of being shot in a robbery; the bullet shattering her jaw. Its path missed her heart, but near fatally pierced her soul. Such horror stories crisscross our landscape today, like terrible scars.

I glanced at her face while she spoke, seeing only an incredibly beautiful and courageous woman. Somewhere in a corner of my mind, I thought about how we associate beauty with flawlessness and perfection, until we meet those individuals who show us that it is far more a light that shines from within. It was a reminder to pay attention to and respect unexpected lessons.

Caron spoke with the gentleness of a lamb, but the fierceness of a lion and I imagined how I may never have had the privilege of meeting her. You never know which person next to you is the walking wounded or whose force of spirit can hold you rooted to the spot while all you do is listen. Maybe you have to feel it to know how humbling it can be to simply look someone in the eye.

I learned about her efforts to establish Project R.A.R.E. ‘Raising Awareness on the Ripple Effect of gun violence: promoting peace and building resilience’ is the longer title, and ‘transforming hurt into hope’ is her vision. I have a huge amount of respect for groups like this, led and sustained by citizens from across the country, who are individually committed to helping us all develop empathy, humility, forgiveness, respect, gratitude, and personal and community responsibility.

Connecting to her seemed to open a door to connecting with other survivors. On Monday, RARE organized a forum on gun violence at UTT. I came in just in time to hear the testimonies of Kyle Phillip of East Mucurapo Secondary School, and Jeremiah Ferguson of El Dorado Life Centre, run by Servol.

Both young men told stories of having family members shot at and killed. Kyle himself lost a cousin the night before his speech, and broke down at the microphone, his grief holding his audience still in their seats with its oppressive weight.

It’s such singular stories that pierce your heart because violence and its scars seem in our day and age to have become so ordinary. It’s worse to hear those stories from youth still in school uniform, and to understand that they can’t carry the future of the nation in their school bags if we callously break their spirit and strength.

“Guns are like cell phones in my community”, said Kyle. He described “serious peer pressure from youths in my community that are in my age bracket to get involved in that life”. It was clear that he knew that only education could get him out, though he was “not sure to be here tomorrow”.

“Even now a scratch bomb still sends me into a panic”, said Jeremiah. “The youth of this country are traumatized. The national as a whole is traumatized. It is almost like we are living in a war zone. Is this how a war zone feels?”

His advice is worth repeating: “Youth, if you want to lime on a block, make the library your block. If you want to steal, steal words from a dictionary. You will learn some new words and their meanings. If you want to kill, kill all your negative thoughts. We need change. We need to create opportunities for youth so they can choose other pathways. I lost my brother. Because of a Gun”.

We need to think about gun and gang violence not only as problems, but as solutions for many boys and men who want to access status, respect, money, brotherhood and other markers of real manhood. This is particularly true because poverty emasculates, creating both pressure and temptation to live and die by a gun in a glamourous and profitable, but dehumanizing and wasted life. The traditional association between manhood, toughness and authority, in which we are all still invested, is the real problem. It’s an ideal we teach which is also toxic to boys and men’s souls.

Until manhood becomes also about nurturing, care, emotions and equality, schools will churn our shooters who have found shortcuts to manhood and power, rather than brokenness and failure. Recognising this one day, we will have to forgive them as we forgive ourselves for not quietly listening to this humble truth.

Post 225.

We must set our eye on the way ahead, even as horror holds us in the present at news of this week’s acid attack on Rachael Chadee. This February, two girls were sexually assaulted in secondary schools, and the wife of a police officer was threatened with rape and murder. Norma Holder was raped and killed returning from church. Asami Nagakiya was strangled. Rachael Sukdeo took to social media to escape assault. And, those were not the entirety of reports or incidences, just the ones that made headlines, just this month.

This trend signals that the major problem in our society occurs within the family. Under Reports of Domestic Violence Offences for 2015, which refer to offences committed against a spouse, child, any other person who is a member of the household or dependant, there were 15 murder/homicides, 38 cases of sexual abuse, 808 cases of assault by beating, 526 cases of threats and 62 cases of verbal abuse worth reporting to police, and 95 breaches of protection orders.

Generalised violence, but particularly sexualized violence, is in our homes, schools and streets, and if all women stopped flinging waist, it would make no difference. Until we acknowledge that men’s violence against each other and women is a men’s issue and a men’s movement-building issue, we will be in trouble.

What’s happening with boys and men, as victims and as perpetrators, is connected to what’s happening in terms of violence against women. The crisis of masculinity isn’t one of girls doing well in school, its one of the continued association between manhood, power and violence, starting at home.

The first problem is economic inequality, and the vulnerability to risk, insecurity and harm that it creates in women and men’s lives. The second issue is state failure to adequately address criminality, whether through schools, policing, social services, prisons or the courts. But, what gives these vulnerabilities and failures different meanings for women, men, girls and boys are the forms of manhood that are dominant, rewarded, tolerated and excused.

If you hear how we should be paying more attention to the murders of boys and men, as they occur in greater numbers, than the everyday, more invisible harm faced by women and girls, which is far more sexualized and includes murder, walk away. If you hear how the solution is men playing their rightful, leading roles in the family, church, schools and state, walk away. If recommendations prioritize more dominant men as role models or military boot camp or youth imprisonment, walk away. If you hear anyone framing the violence being experienced by boys and the violence being experienced by girls in terms of a battle of the sexes for attention and resources, walk away.

There is a single overarching issue at the heart of both and it is forms of manhood that idealise dominance, toxicity, authority and impunity. Their normality creates the context for more extreme forms of these qualities, which result in harm to both women and men, and widespread enactment of inhumane masculinities.

It will take decades of workshops, community trainings, counseling, fundraising, scholarships, marches, curriculum change, mentorship and skill building to challenge the deeply embedded toxicity of patriarchal rules. And, it cannot happen until men and women are willing to accept what’s at stake, which is challenge to male dominance and power. It’s a choice for men: a less violent society in which completely different masculine ideals underlie children’s gender socialization, or a hold on privilege and, with it, a continued status quo. And if religious and state leaders don’t wake up to their own complicity with such toxicity, they will continue to trade justice for respectability, while berating the rest of us for it no longer hitting home.

For the conversation about violence against women to not go cold, we need concrete deliverables and deadlines from a range of state officials.  They have the greatest power to implement policies, change protocols, provide resources, reach communities, and enact the solutions we propose.

Those solutions include gender training across local government, and gender policies for each Regional or City Corporation, gender-based violence curriculum for young people, and a targeted strategy at a new generation which needs different gender roles.