DR GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN
I COULDN’T let this week pass without remembering Andrea Bharatt and the one-year anniversary of her disappearance on January 29, 2021. What words about sexual violence against women could I say which I have not said again and again?
One year later, women are no less afraid. The macabre irony of another murdered woman found half naked in Aripo Savannah on January 30, almost in the same place and almost to the day, reminds us that the war against women remains alive.
It is a war in which women are targeted because of their sex and in which men’s sexual violence is part and parcel of their lethality.
We don’t just live in fear, we live in wait for the next brutality. The story of another lost 18-year-old like Ashanti Riley, innocently travelling to her grandmother, would horrify, but not surprise. Another minor sexually assaulted in a taxi would cause us to caution her to be more careful, warnings that come like a rite of passage, and an unjust responsibility.
There were no marches for Shadie Dasrath, 31, found nude in her bedroom in December. Her common-law husband has been charged with her murder.
Before men kill there are always patterns of threat, control, anger, cruelty and rape so normalised that they are commonly excused.
In-between the tragedy of Ashanti’s disappearance on November 29, 2020 and Andrea’s discarded body found on February 4, 2021 is the ill-conceived headline published in the Guardian, “Woman raped after smoking marijuana with attacker.” I use it to teach students about victim-blame and woman-blame, and about those women who are not considered angels or perfect, so often represented as deserving of whatever violence men mete out to them.
The real story is that the woman was sleeping next to her baby when she awoke to find the man raping her. With her baby as witness, the man pointed a gun at her and threatened to shoot her in her own home. Why didn’t the headline say, “Man rapes and threatens to shoot woman asleep with her baby?” What is the message still being sent about where responsibility for violence lies?
In the midst of this, men’s rights representatives in Trinidad and Tobago sought headlines for the issue of violence against men and boys. Women feature in such violence as mothers or guardians and intimate partners. However, this is continually hyper-emphasised over men and boys’ more pervasive, dispersed and lethal violence to other boys and men.
Locally, men and boys are killed in domestic violence disputes (by other men). They also experience sexual and other forms of abuse in their homes (predominantly, though, not only by men). Globally, they die in unspeakable numbers from wars and gang warfare among men. They experience bullying mainly from other boys. Mass shootings in the US are perpetrated by boys and men.
The language of this campaign to establish an international day for this issue side-steps this reality of perpetration entirely, focusing only on men and boys as victims, citing “invisible” brothers, fathers and sons, “vulnerable boys and voiceless men.” Feminists have long been concerned about these intersectional forms of violence and a lot of money has been spent on them across the hemisphere.
Like women, men fear men. What they don’t fear is the sexual abuse and sexual violence that are a threat to girls and women every day. Competitive men’s rights staking of terrain doesn’t recognise inequalities in perpetration, but Andrea and Ashanti’s memory must not allow us to forget.
I wondered why this campaign so completely missed the need to name and end male violence, from wars, gangs and prisons to bondage of women sex workers in brothels to the sexual violence which threatens with a gun or instead physically bludgeons at home, stabs to death in front of children, sets on fire in a car, buries in a grave or leaves naked or half-naked raped and dead in a forest.
I’ll repeat recommendations in other columns as I have before and will again. Today, I’m shuddering with recognition. One year later, even as we still protest, we have not changed the world from which these young women were taken.
Diary of a mothering worker