We all know almost anything head-turning can appear on the front page of a Newsday. So, no surprise: When an 18-year-old, according to their account, went to the Belmont police station to report he’d been a victim of a classic pattern in sexual assault locally—a PH-car going off-route—he was shamed in red-and-white block letters for thousands of readers:
Neither of two women, reported in the same story to have alleged similar assaults by PH rapists and accomplices, appears to have “cried.”
Washing for a trip to Jamaica—whose persistent violence I’ve never tried to understand—I found folded in a pants back-pocket the five-minute remarks I’d delivered nervously three weeks before on the Wrightson Rd. waterfront. Under the banner “Side by Side We Stand,” the Lloyd Best Institute facilitated a rally that gave a cross-section of us a soapbox for reflections about T&T’s particular culture of violence.
It was January 6th, but little any of us offered was any epiphany. I recall the creeping feeling, wound up delivering the speech like an election stump, that it was just a lot of simple ideas.
Another speaker’s simple idea was: If men were being sexually assaulted, we’d have a wholly different social response to the runaway epidemic of sexual violence in T&T.
But men are. And still we don’t.
At least since Sparrow recorded “Family Size” in 1957, even popular culture has acknowledged sexual assault against men.
And since 2000, we’ve amended sexual offences legislation to include in the offence of rape all genders and orifices—“to reflect a gender neutral position with regard to the complainant and the victim…to include protection for victims of violent same sex activity,” Government told the United Nations in 2012. In 2015, the Children Act also brought into force a new, gender-neutral approach to sexual offences by adults against boys and girls, criminalising all penetration of a child equally.
Under successive Directors of Public Prosecution, however, we’ve continued the lazy route of prosecuting anal rape of both men and women, using the same buggery offence that criminalises consensual sex, thereby keeping our sodomy law open for business. No need to prove rape.
The visibility Newsday gives this young man’s rape report, over so many women’s, does nothing to help victims of rape.
Instead, what better explains both our prosecutorial practice and Newsday’s rapeshaming headline is this comment on the Facebook page of Dr Wayne West, one of our exports to Jamaica, where he leads a faith-based movement against sexual freedom: “The concept of a boy being raped depends on one’s ideological positions and political objectives…one may well define a punch in the eye as rape.”
Headlined innuendo and state prosecutions that obfuscate whether men have been raped ensure sexual violence carries for men and boys a shame of being unmanly, and deepen men’s investment in keeping sexual assault feminised.
Reporting that “Police said that there are several reports of a man pretending to be a PH driver who has been preying on young men seeking transport at nights” doesn’t focus us on the routineness of this reality for women who “travel,” or on the need to increase public transportation safety for everyone. What it generates is a sense of the exceptional nature of this kind of predation and predator. The many men out there who prey on women without arrest remain bad people we don’t really know; not the men we join in sooting women, nor the men in our families and rumshops we’ve shared our sexual conquests with.
In other words, sensationalising sexual assault of men is bad for men and for women.
Re-reading the sheet of paper forgotten in my back pocket made me reflect that real change of any kind requires more than platitudes. Certainly making any difference on crime in T&T takes persistence and tactical strategy. And what struck me at “Side by Side” was how differently different speakers saw the problem of violence.
But big, simple, shared ideas are a starting point for any social change, and those ideas have fallen out of our nation-building generally, displaced by tribalism. The dumbest, yet clearest thing I had to offer the rally was that “All of us must ensure a culture of justice, opportunity and dignity in our nation”—a no-brainer that if we do not wish young people to become criminals, the country must deliver opportunities that compete with crime. Although I did include in that the bolder idea that opportunity includes the opportunity to imagine and to lead change.
Men ought to be talking much more about rape and the rape culture we create, which makes women’s bodies unsafe in their homes, the streets, and our stores. One simple idea I proffered at the Waterfront was that well-known root solutions to violence against women—the kinds of men we all raise; how men hold each other accountable; the power or shame we assign to feminine traits—also protect men’s and trans people’s bodies and differences from violence.