Womantra: Sexual assault exposers page can be critical network

NON-PROFIT organisation Womantra said an anonymous Twitter page where people are making claims about sexual assault can be a critical network.

At Thursday's weekly police media briefing, Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith described the claims on Twitter as "very unfortunate" and irresponsible.

"This has opened a Pandora's Box because several of those persons whose names have been there have stated that they did not do it. And people can 'play' police. And (when) you are playing a police officer (and) someone doesn't like an individual and they pass the name on, and you have this put on social media. And this obviously can embarrass individuals."

The group, in an e-mail response to Newsday on Friday, said the "Trinbago Sexual Assault Exposers" page emerged out of frustration with the lack of access to justice concerning sexual crimes.

"Reporting on sexual assault is low for myriad reasons, including long and onerous justice system requirements, from initial reporting, straight up to prosecution, with many potential procedural land mines in between. A space like this one, allows victims to report anonymously and share the name of their attacker, which can offer its own catharsis, barring reliable legal remedies. It can also be considered a critical network for warning other women and men about potential danger.

"Is it ideal? Of course not but what we really want to emphasise here is that this remedy is a consequence of a public lack of trust of state machinery to protect women."

Womantra said it is difficult to offer a response to the Commissioner's reactions since his words and actions do not appear to be harmonised.

"Inherent in the work that we do is acknowledging the voice and role of victims in articulating their own experiences. But what we do not want in response to a public outcry and mobilisation around a particular issue, in this case sexual assault, is a knee-jerk reaction from the arms of the state charged with our protection.

"Change is needed and long overdue and women’s rights organisations have been doing the work to put sexual crimes and crimes against women on the front burner of legislators and other power brokers’ agenda for decades, including the police. We are the experts, as women and as human rights defenders and we have offered this expertise time and again to various state actors, so that they get it right the first time."

At the media briefing the police announced the new Sexual Offences Unit which will investigate reports of sexual assaults against adult victims, both male and female, where the assault is non-intimate and targeted such as date rape. Womantra described the establishment of the unit as a step in the right direction and, based on the press conference, the police have a lot of the right ideas.

"We do, however, have concerns about how this unit will be trained and resourced, particularly during the period of a global pandemic, which offers unique challenges and limitations. These are not different concerns from those already expressed to the Police Commissioner in our meetings with him over the past few months."

On the Gender-Based Violence Unit, launched in January, Womantra noted there have been 106 arrests made and an increased reporting of incidents, which the group views as progress. The group added that they have been in talks with the unit's manager Shireen Pollard about further partnership opportunities, including gender sensitivity training for officers of the unit.

On the issue of sexual assaults against women the group said there are a number of recommendations Womantra and other women’s rights organisations have been making including amendments to the Domestic Violence Act which is currently before Parliament.

"Some of these recommendations have been taken on and others haven’t, including the ability of same sex partners to access legal remedies in instance of violence."

Womantra said another critical piece to the state’s response to sexual crimes and sexual and reproductive health in general is the implementation of the National Policy on Sexual and Reproductive Health, which most people do not know exists and has been in draft for several years.

"At the core of our sentiments is the need for a robust and coordinated state-led response to gender-based and sexual violence that formally integrates the technical advice, services and monitoring support provided by civil society and other key stakeholders."


"Womantra: Sexual assault exposers page can be critical network"

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