Sexual Abuse isn’t something we are told or taught about in St.Lucia or the wider Caribbean. When you are growing up there are no mentions of people touching you in the special place, of people’s comments or actions being too sexual, or what you should do if someone makes you uncomfortable when touching you. We are not warned that strangers are not our only enemies but that family and friends are also capable of damage. Our voices are drowned out by what we have been taught or what we have seen. We aren’t taught about the signs of sexual abuse. Our teachers are unaware of the symptoms that we exhibit when our world is being turned upside down. We are taught to obey our elders, listen to family friends, do what you are told. Girls, in particular, are to be seen and not heard. So many of us suffer in silence because of this. I was silent for 8 years and then another 13 years before I found my voice. You are threatened and guilted into keeping this secret- you are made to feel culpable in the act thereby making you a participant and not a victim. Our culture has stood by abusers, they have let them walk freely, the have absolved them of their guilt and found ways to blame the victim; what were you doing there, why were you wearing that, you know you wanted it, you drank to much- the excuses continue. We are a victim blaming society making it harder for anyone one to feel comfortable seeking help, or speaking out. Sexual assault is about power not sex.
My past dictated what I did with my future. I found myself drawn to the field of Psychology, graduating from College with my Bachelors in Forensic Psychology and minors in Sociology & Law. I started out counseling at my college and later working with victims of domestic violence. There was a need to understand what caused someone to inflict that pain on another human being, to understand how others stood by and did nothing. I wanted to understand how I had been affected by my past, how others are affected and how it continues to affect us on a daily basis. One of the questions that continues to plague me is what can be done? It appears there are not enough answers to this question. There are a multitude of aspects of society that need to be addressed. There are a long list of behaviors and attitudes that have to be changed to make it a better place for survivors of Sexual Assault. The perception around how sexual assault is viewed has to be changed drastically. The idea that the victim/survivor has something to be ashamed of, that they are to be blamed for something that was out of their hands is ridiculous. You have done nothing wrong, Something was taken from you by someone you more than likely knew and trusted.
I have found that we view rape and sexual molestation of children, women and men as something that doesn’t happen; even when there is evidence to the contrary. In St. Lucia we act out and up when the incident is fresh, how dare a man do something of this nature but then it dies down and so does the need to address the issues surrounding the various types of sexual assault. We perpetuate the cycle of sexual assault. We are quick to blame the victim/survivor. We are quick to let the abuser off the hook especially if he falls into the higher social class of our society. We protect the abuser at the sake of the victim’s well-being. We find excuses for his behavior and expect the victim/survivor to do the same and forgive. Why don’t we then excuse murders? All forms of Sexual Assault murder the souls of those it touches, we ignore the irreparable damage that is done. Society doesn’t see it that way; they believe it has happened once, or maybe when you were younger, therefore you should be over it. We don’t see the psychological and physical issues that manifest. We prefer to live in ignorance. Ignorance is bliss they say.
I guess our Caribbean society is no different than other societies around the world. Silence is still the approved response when one has been sexually assaulted. My abuse remained quiet for the period of time it went on. It was discussed for the short period when I revealed it and then it was as if it never happened. We have laws that indicate that raping someone occurs when sexual intercourse happens against the will of one of the individuals yet statistics show that not enough perpetrators are prosecuted for this crime. We have laws that speak about incest- defining it- laying out the prison term; yet very little is done when the crime is actually committed. Based on our 2004 criminal code there is no statutes of limitations on crimes of rape or sexual abuse of minors. You would think that meant more people would have been arrested, not the case because victims/survivors don’t have a supportive environment to come forward. We find that a woman is re-raped by society for something that was done to her. I am not sure when the lines got so blurred that an abuser walked while an abusee suffered for years. When did we become a society that was desensitized to the crimes of rape and child sexual abuse? When did it become alright to excuse, half/step/full brother, daddy, uncle, cousin, family friend, priest, teacher, coach, for raping, fondling, touching, kissing, or any act that made one feel uncomfortable? When do we draw the line at what we allow people to do to our children/ our women/ our men? When does it become enough so that society is shocked into acting?
The time has come to change how sexual assault is viewed in our country. How victims/survivors are treated and how perpetrators of this crime are dealt with. Many view rape as something that has happened once, child abuse as something that happened when you were little- the underlying message is always that you should be over it, that you should pick yourself up and move on with life. Not many understand the various ways survivors of sexual assault are hurt long-term. Many suffer with body image issues, trust issues, self-esteem issues and the list goes on. I am asking that we start changing the current attitudes around sexual assault in St.Lucia and the wider Caribbean. I am asking that we put children first; that we protect out women and take care of our men. Abuse starts a cycle that spirals downward; that breaks people and leave little hope for brighter futures.
Incest – Who would I have been?
I am a survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse, like so many around me. Sexual Abuse has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My first memories seem innocent, or I should say what I remember from the first time appears innocent but then I also remember someone walking in and saying we would talk about this when your mother gets home. I don’t remember there ever being a talk. Much like my society my family was wasn’t sure how to handle it, what do we say, what do we do, when you are unsure it appears the rule of thumb is to do nothing. My older half-brother, my abuser from the ages of about 4 until just before my 12th birthday, continued in his abuse of me; sexual, psychological and physical at times. For a long time I didn’t approach my abuser on what occurred. Over time the anger and resentment built up. I finally got to a point where I had to stop being afraid, where I had to make sure that I was taking steps to make my life better and myself stronger. For a long time there wasn’t much about myself that I liked, there seemed to be no point to life and no chance at happiness. I can’t begin to list the ways in which I would say it has affected my life. So I’ll start at the beginning, I will share my story with you. The time has come to stop hiding, to stop protecting my abuser(my half-Brother) and everyone else and to take the steps that will help me move forward.
My abuse started when I was very young, my abuser being only eight years older then I was never considered how his actions would have affected me. It continued in this way getting worse and his actions getting bolder over the years. I was threatened that if I told anyone that I wouldn’t be believed, and that he would go unpunished. I was told that my parents would be angry with me, that they would hate me. When I was younger he would offer to read me to sleep, once I fell asleep it would start. Later I would fight to stay awake through the story, he would leave when the book was done and come back after I’d fallen asleep. I guess my silence back then pushed him to go even further; he stopped waiting for the night and did it during the day whenever he could, at one point finishing right before my mother came home from work. I didn’t say anything to anyone old enough to help until just before my 12th birthday. I told a teacher who told me to tell my mom. In St. Lucia; school officials weren’t required by law, to the best of my knowledge, to divulge this information to the police. It never went beyond my principal’s office. I am constantly asked how no one knew it happened; “your relationship with your half brother didn’t seem strained”. I ask myself why it went on like that for so long; the only answer that comes to mind is that when everyone around you buries what has happened what are you left to do at such a young age with little feasible resources/avenues for help. If the adults are forgetting what happened then maybe you should too. For many years I looked back on the events and blamed myself. Why didn’t I say something to someone, why didn’t I do something to stop it? I did what we are always told not to do, blame myself, how could I let this happen to myself. At some point you beginning to believe what he says- that you wanted this and liked it. It’s a very solitary feeling knowing that no one really knows what you’ve been through, feeling like you have no where to go and no one to turn to. This served to keep me silent for a long time. I learnt to endure it, shutting my eyes and praying for it to be over. The abuse decreased as he found another victim. It never occurred to me that she would be one of his victims. She was older, more mature, and yet he found a way to victimize her. She finally broke down and confided in me. I found myself consoling her and telling her it would be ok, knowing that this was not a promise I should make or could keep. He found a way to make her feel insignificant and afraid.
I went through my secondary school years feeling alone. Never quite fitting in, not knowing where I was headed and truly not caring. It wasn’t until I was 15 that I decided that I didn’t want to end up like the nothing he was. That I wasn’t going to let him suck the joy from my life. Every chance that I got to confront him about it I did; and every time he denied. Until one day in New York; when he said to me and I quote “SO I F…… you so what”. I can’t adequately explain the pain and horror I felt at those words coming out, but I left the apartment wishing only that I could die. I stood on the roof of my apartment building and considered ending it all. Over the past four years, my college education opened new doors and helped me start a healing process I never knew I had the strength to. He has returned and reopened the wound. I struggle with my pain everyday. He has admitted that he abused me but it does nothing to abate the pain, anger, and shame that fills my life. For most of my life I feared him, hated myself, never quite feeling whole. I look back and sometimes it’s like it never happened to me, but to someone else that is now locked away in a dark place.
He was never punished and in some ways I knew he’d won; after all I’d been warned that this would be the end result. It felt like he got away with murder. He had stolen so much from me and now he was off-free. I’m not sure how I expected my parents to react; or for that matter my siblings but I guess when he wasn’t punished in the ways I expected I felt like I was left standing alone. For many of us who are survivors of abuse, the pain of having our abuser set free, or not punished is disheartening. This is one of the many reasons I chose to speak out. We have a chance to come forward and stand up sharing what we have been through. It is only recently that I have figured out this is one of the steps to healing; being able to speak about it freely. In the Caribbean crimes of this nature are not punished as often or as severely as they should. Maybe through this we can help to change this.
As Survivors of various forms of sexual abuse we have along journey ahead of us. But I have found that there are many of us on the same journey we need only look around and seek comfort from those who have been through the same things we are currently struggling through. Education is a key part in understanding about the various kinds of sexual assault, what are options are when we are assaulted, how to deal with everything that arises. I have learnt that we will be surprised at how many of us have been through similar experiences. We can no longer rely on the excuse that we live in the Caribbean and not much else can be expected. We have to create the standards that we want to be held by. And as cliched as this will sound we have to be the change we want to see in St.Lucia and the wider Caribbean.
Positive Reactions Over Secrets & Fear – PROSAF is aimed at addressing issues that have affected our society for generations. Operating under two main branches, PROSAF brings to the forefront, issues such as the lack of comprehensive education and the effects and incidence of sexual assault, in society. The Power Of one and Surviving Sexual Abuse in The Caribbean are the founding movements of PROSAF. Each branch encourages and facilitates society to speak out, and seek resources to address problems affecting them. The issues affecting individuals are usually rooted in intangible areas, where the only way through or forward, may be to understand the intricate experiences in their history. PROSAF has found that many negative issues continue to plague us because of a lack of information, education and ability to seek qualified, professional assistance. That is where we come in.