The murder and possible rape of a teenage girl who was abducted by a PH driver in San Juan by as many as three men has prompted the head of the National Security Council to relook a decision to clamp down on illegal taxis, but he does not think self-defence tools such as pepper spray and tasers was the answer to such attacks against women.
Dr Rowley responded the outrage from the country over the murder of Ashanti Riley, 18, of Sunshine Avenue, San Juan on Saturday at a media briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann's to give an update on the steps taken to combat the covid19 pandemic.
He said as a father of two daughters, uncle to nieces and cousins, "when the news comes to me about somebody experiencing that, I physically feel the pain and say what would I have done if that was me."
"Unfortunately there is evil on our society, like any other, and the question is are we doing anything to encourage it, to discourage it...These developments in recent days are not the pain of a family, it is a national pain...it is just another one of the challenges that we have to face and if there are things that we can do, or must do, all I could say is lets identify such things and do them," he said.
Clearly moved by Riley's murder, Rowley took a deep sigh before addressing the question and made reference to the infamous case of Mano Benjamin, who tortured and raped two sisters in the rural village of Biche in the 1960, and was described by the judge in the case as the "beast of Biche."
"Unfortunately we still have some of those amongst us and we have to always be on the alert that we could be the next victim," the Prime Minister said.
Turning to the question of criminals posing as PH drivers, Rowley said he had raised it with the Minister of National Security and it is a matter the population had to confront.
Rowley said gone are the days when someone operating a vehicle for hire had to be a person of good character, the vehicle clearly marked as a taxi and the driver was registered by the State.
He said it was now open to anyone to operate a PH taxi which created a danger for unsuspecting people to be picked up and pounced on by criminals.
"There is in Trinidad and Tobago a large number of people, not a small number, operating motor vehicles unknown to the State's registry because there isn't any real registry, since we have disbanded the system of you coming and licence your vehicle every year. I'm coming to the conclusion that the State does not have a good handle on who is operating motor vehicles in this country. And among those people, many of them, are people who should have nothing to with picking up people in a motor vehicle because their character is not a recommendation to the rest of the population. The question that is before me now is what do we do about it," he said.
Asked his views on revisiting women to legally carry pepper spray and tasers as a form of defence, a matter which had been raised in Parliament in 2017 and 2019 after women fell victim to criminals, Rowley said he does not think that is the answer since "the criminal has an advantage that is not surrendered until the crime is committed."
"The criminal picks the time and the place and in the discussion over the use of pepper spray the advice that we get from many people is that the person carrying it would only be required to use it if the criminal decides to commit the crime. It does not guarantee you, that you are not going to be at the disadvantaged end when the criminal chooses the point at which the crime is committed. And then it will be available to the criminal too and the very threat of being pepper-sprayed might even make a woman more vulnerable to the criminal. Because if pepper spray is available to Tom, Dick and Harry, and someone threatens you with it, it becomes harmful to you in the hands of somebody who has made the decision to commit a crime with against you," Rowley said.
He suggested the same can be applied to a licensed firearm holder if someone comes from behind and shoots.
Asked whether women should at least be given a fighting chance to ward off their attacker with some form of non-lethal weapon, Rowley said he would take that advice from security experts.
He said if the solution is going to bring new problems and pose greater threats then that would not be an option.
"Pepper spray in a woman's purse is something quite different to a person attacking in a way that child (Ashanti) might have been attacked. It is not a guarantee that it would improve your circumstances. Some people might fall prey to it being used on them," he said.