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A Culture of Sexual Violence in Guyana

A sobering blog post about sexual violence in Guyana.

Growing up in Guyana I was never knew that there was such a thing as domestic violence or violence against women.  I didn’t know a lot of things until I came to North America.  Perhaps these things existed in the little South American country I called home for fifteen years but it was kept quiet.  People did not talk about their problems publicly like here in North America where people talk so freely about very personal things on television on talk shows.  When  I was in Guyana, we didn’t have television but we had the radio and the movie theaters to entertain us.   I saw movies where women were brutally raped and sometimes killed.

Domestic violence in Guyana is widespread.  The NGOs report a widespread perception that some police officers and magistrates could be bribed to make cases of domestic violence “go away.” The government also does not prosecute cases in which the alleged victim or victim’s family agreed to drop the case in exchange for a monetary payment out of court. NGOs assert the need for a specialized Family Court.

Domestic violence is a problem in all regions of the country. Enforcement of the domestic violence laws is especially weak in the interior, where police do not have as strong a presence and courts meet only once a quarter.    Fortunately, there is help and shelter for victims of domestic violence.  Help and Shelter was founded in 1995 to work against all types of violence, especially domestic and sexual violence and child abuse.  Since its inception it has become a recognised leader in the fight against violence in Guyana, particularly in the areas of domestic, sexual and child abuse.  On their website they make the following statements:

  • Studies of domestic violence in Guyana estimate that between 1 and 2 in every 3 women are victims. We also know that domestic violence against children, against the disabled and against the elderly is endemic
  • Help and Shelter’s mission is to is to work towards the elimination of violence in all its forms by helping to create a society where attitudes to use of violence and practices of violence have been transformed
  • In a client base of over 8,000 persons, 85% are female and 80% victims of spousal abuse

A June 2012 article published in Stabroek News stated that the 2000 study, which was carried out with the support of the University of Guyana and the University of the West Indies, found that Guyana had one of the highest rates of domestic violence among the Common wealth Caribbean, and that nearly 40 percent of women had experienced domestic abuse (17 June 2012).  A 2010 UN Development Programme (UNDP) survey on citizen security, in which over 11,000 male and female adults in 7 Caribbean countries were interviewed, found that approximately 17 percent of respondents in Guyana had been subject to punching, kicking, of other physical violence by an adult household member, in comparison to the region-wide average of 10.9 percent (UN 2012, 11, 29).

Sources indicate that domestic violence incidents in Guyana are becoming more violent (Stabroek News 17 June 2012) and the number of deaths as a result of domestic violence was increasing in both 2009 (ibid. 17 Feb. 2009) and in 2012 (Help and Shelter 27 Sept. 2012).  According to staff members at Help and Shelter, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury in Guyana for women between the ages of 15 and 44 (Stabroek News 20 Feb. 2011).  Yet, according to the article from UNHCR The UN Refugee Agency, there are problems with the Government, the police and the judicial system.  The police receive training in domestic violence, there is concern that despite the training, the police are still “not very effective” in handling cases of domestic violence.  Women’s rights organizations complain that the police response to domestic violence cases is “unsatisfactory”.

This is one of the saddest things I have read.

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