My mind struggles to comprehend the growing number of reports of domestic violence and sexual assault in this small territory.
I am reading reports of the justice system interceding just to have a man financially support the children he sired. Many children are being raised by one parent — left to feel abandoned by a father, mother or both. Sometimes I ask God why he blesses those who don’t care with children, when there are those who can only dream of conceiving.
I have been thinking about these problems for a few years. But I had the opportunity of watching the 2010 movie “For Colored Girls,” produced by Tyler Perry. Because of the film’s title, I felt at first that it was not for me. However, it was a superb performance by a strong cast. I wish I could give a synopsis of every scene, but time will not permit. This movie shed light on the darkness experienced by so many women around the world. It embodied the astronomical complexities of the woman and her everyday struggle.
People sometimes say it is not what is said, but what is not said that one should consider. I pondered that phrase and wondered, “Why are so many women opting not to get married?” Many women are throwing themselves into a career and extra activities that consume their days, and I realised this often has nothing to do with women’s liberation or women’s rights. It is sometimes caused by fear: They are simply doing for themselves what men, especially the fathers, failed to do — such as providing a true sense of security.
My mind struggles to comprehend why a man would sexually assault or beat someone. Is it because of his inability to communicate his insecurities, or his inability to comprehend that there is still life and love at the end of a failed relationship? To find resolve in physical harm should not be the answer. People make mistakes in life, and that is okay, but when people do not learn from their mistakes it is a problem.
By law, everyone is innocent until proven guilty — after which conviction follows. I somehow feel that time behind bars is not enough. In deterring crimes of sexual assault, maybe other forms of punishment should be added to the law. We could consider maybe 50 lashes across the back, public caning, chemical castration or reinstating the death penalty. We always talk about safety and improvement of the territory for tourists — yes, the mighty dollar — but I advocate safety and protection for our people first.
That said, I continue to struggle with the fact that many of our men are being convicted of domestic violence and sexual assaults. I know of one instance where a 15-year-old girl was having “consensual” sexual relations with an adult. When she was caught, her parents called “rape.” Long story short, the young man, who was 18, was put behind bars. That situation has bothered me for years. I am in no way condoning the actions of this young man — according to the law, his punishment was justified. The flip side to other cases is that some parents are aware of their child’s sexual habits, but keep silent until pregnancy.
Maybe parents should be questioned for their contribution to the wayward actions of their child. I am not saying that many parents don’t do their best, but I do believe that some level of shared responsibility is needed.
From a social education perspective, maybe self-esteem sessions should be mandatory for girls and boys. And in cases where it can be proven that parents know of their child’s illegal sexual habits, should there be a law that punishes the parents?
The way forward
Data from the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force show that there has been an increase in sexual assaults and some other crimes from 2007 to 2009. We know that the justice system works in three parts after conviction: punishment, rehabilitation and re-entry. I applaud the efforts of our workers who cater to the needs of our convicted. Some programmes, such as carpentry, farming, kitchen duties, counselling, anger management and work release, are already instituted at the prison, but they can and should be improved. However, the territory needs more from the prison population.
I have several ideas:
• a full-fledged vocational academy that teaches business concepts;
• hard labour in community service in building, maintaining and beautifying the entire territory;
• a prison education re-entry programme;
• prison diversion programmes;
• a self-provision fund programme where prisoners work for wages;
• a reform etiquette programme;
• a job placement programme; and
• monthly mandatory ex-prisoner socio-psychological evaluations for two years.
Prisoners who want a reduced sentence would have to do what is required. Prison is not a democracy — it is a dictatorship. The people’s taxes should be spent on making sure that personnel are hired to prepare prisoners for re-entry and that they have a place to serve their sentence.
However, catering to prisoners’ every need should not be the burden of the taxpayer. Being convicted of a crime and sent to prison results in freedom and luxuries lost.
This topic is very sensitive, but I cannot help thinking that there are some areas of the social and justice systems that need improving, and many areas in our society that are in desperate need of healing. My heart cries out because there needs to be a national dialogue. Domestic violence and sexual assaults are not the only issues that need to be discussed.
People around the world speak about human rights — freedom of speech and so on — but to what degree does a territory have to suffer for every right in the book? We take these rights and make light of them. People were killed and ridiculed so that we can live a better life today, but are we living this better life? Until the time of death, can we truly be free from the struggle?