#Metoo and sexual violence against women

Dear Editor,

  The World Health Organization has estimated that the prevalence of sexual violence affects one-third of all women worldwide; that’s an astonishing 1.3 billion women, or more than three times the entire population of the United States of America. This is a startling revelation, which may not necessarily be reflected by, or adequately represent the true reality of this public health problem.

  Broadly defined, “Sexual violence is any sexual act or attempt to obtain a sexual act by violence or coercion, acts to traffic a person or acts directed against a person’s sexuality, regardless of the relationship to the victim.” And yes, relationship status, marriage or otherwise, does not exempt one from being held accountable for unlawful sexual acts committed against the wishes of the victim; rather it’s an unconditional consent that exonerates one.

  More women are becoming empowered to speak out and seek justice for the sexual wrongs that were committed against their person. Their courage has been bolstered in recent times by the advent of movements such as #metoo which has gained momentum over the years and whose virality has helped tremendously in the public awareness and sensitisation campaign on sexual violence against women.

  The #metoo movement is in part a community of mostly women united in opposition to coercive, unwanted and inappropriate sexual acts or advances committed against largely vulnerable women. Of late this movement has been infiltrating the corridors of power and privilege, a milieu where most women felt not so long ago was immune from punishment for unlawful sexual acts perpetrated by males. Seemingly the scale of justice has tipped in favour of these women resulting in figures such as Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein being tried by a court of law and convicted for sexual crimes committed against marginalised women. These were once powerful and influential men from the upper echelons of society.

  Men who were once perceived, wrongly so, as “untouchables” in a society guided by such principles as justice and liberty for all are increasingly made to account for their illicit acts carried out against mostly impuissant women. This exploitative form of behaviour by some of the “movers and shakers” of civilized society against women who are no more than “struggling dreamers” is no longer perpetuated in silence.

  Women are challenging their traditional Victorian expectation of “gentle quietude”, they are vocalising and resisting attempts to have their rights, womanhood and bodies violated.

  Power, privilege, low levels of education amongst males, cultural norms, attitudes accepting of violence and a sense of entitlement over women are some of the underlying factors contributing to sexual violence against women. However, the misuse of power and privilege often times overshadows the other factors largely because of who the perpetrators are and the attention usually given to them. But many women are the silent victims of sexual violence perpetrated by men afflicted with the other factors listed, in particular men’s sense of entitlement over women especially in intimate sexual relationships, which according to the World Health Organization accounts for over 40 percent of the total cases of sexual violence against women.

  It’s important to note too that women’s refusal to engage in undesirable sexual acts is not always met with the use of physical force. They are also subjected to sexual remarks which can be best described as disgusting and disrespectful . In many instances too they are issued with threats, most notably in the workplace. And failure to comply with inappropriate requests can result in demotions, termination of employment and reversal of career advancement.

  Women who were once discouraged from openly relating their unwelcome sexual experiences with men notably high up on the socio-economic ladder are now encouraged to speak up through solidarity movements like #metoo. Interestingly enough, though, one should take cognizance of the fact that all of this exposure, unveiling, allegations and convictions are occurring in a functioning democratic society (US) with strong institutions of accountability and legal recourse. Women are more likely regardless of their social or economic status to be more forthcoming with reports and complaints of unlawful sexual acts if they are confident and place a high degree of trust in the justice system within their locale.

  Acts of courage and fortitude by women who dared to publicly condemn and point fingers at powerful male elites of society are a standing reproach against sexual violence and example par excellence to women from all walks of life wherever they are on the socio-economic pyramid.

  Given then the gains alluded to above, do you think a #metoo movement in these parts, specifically the Caribbean archipelago, can have the same or similar impact as their US counterpart?. Can such a movement be a game-changer in a region with institutions for recourse that are perceived to be weak and corrupt? How difficult will it be for such a movement to positively influence unhealthy behaviours in a society where men were conditioned to view women as mere possessions or objects to be owned and gratified? Will such a movement become frustrated by the fact that violence was once institutionalised in these parts where its employment was permissible in schools to obtain compliant behaviour?. How will a #metoo movement deal with cultural norms that expose young boys to violence against women at an early age where they witness first-hand mothers being repeatedly whipped by fathers?

  While It’s not the task of a metoo movement to undo or reverse the above, however, what the aforementioned highlights is the role violence or physical force has played as an effective means to achieve desired ends, sexual compliance included. Colonial overtones and explanations aside, the fact of the matter is that quite a number of males from the Caribbean region are not mentality equipped to resist the use of physical force or coercion against women when given the irreversible and legitimate “no” for solicited sexual acts. This “no’’ instead brings out the beast in some of these men – the primal appeal we all have where the brute and savage in us wants to go back to the woods. Us wanting to escape the cognitive mode of experience where the id overpowers the ego, Dionysus displaces Apollo and passions rule.

  A human mind that is not adequately educated to respectfully respond to and value the rights and autonomy of others, specifically women, will almost always manifest behaviour that it is only conscious of and was conditioned for. The mind is unable to display conduct outside the periphery of its awareness and which it wasn’t trained to exhibit. While power and privilege undeniably play a role in sexual violence against women in these parts it is nevertheless likely to persist covertly because of the perception shared by “powerless” women. Vulnerable and disempowered women are more likely to condone inappropriate sexual acts and remarks from the powerful and privileged class of males. This is so primarily because they are of the view that those acts if reported will go unpunished with the likelihood of repercussions for them.

  Women in more advanced societies with stronger institutions that guarantee the protection of individual rights are more likely to be judicially compensated for unlawful sexual acts or advances, which in turn can have the effect of serving as a deterrent to potential male offenders. Nonetheless, movements such as #metoo have demonstrated despite ongoing challenges that solidarity and activism can be empowering for those who have been wronged but needed just an organised and courageous voice to speak out .


Orlando Patterson