Rape victim battling lifelong trauma from multiple offences
One in three J’cans report being sexually assaulted since pandemic in NCU study
At 23, Sherika* says she has been raped by five different men on different occasions. And that number of offences would be higher if repeated encounters with her biological father – the first to defile her at nine years old – are counted.
Now, she lives in a state of numbness, much like 36 per cent of Jamaican men and women who a recent Northern Caribbean University (NCU) study suggested have been sexually assaulted locally since the pandemic.
“I don’t think about it. I just don’t,” Phillips told The Sunday Gleaner of her painful encounters last week. “I always try to find ways to distract myself because once I’m alone and in silence, everything comes back to me.
“That is when I cry,” reflected the woman, who has given up on counsellors and suggested coping interventions since childhood. None has helped the lifelong depression she now experiences.
“Sometimes I just shut down. I lock myself away and I cry. I don’t want to see or talk to anybody. That is how I deal with it,” she offered as she reflected on the news of two young girls being abducted in St Thomas last week.
While it has not been disclosed whether the girls were assaulted, Sherika believes they could also lead a life of trauma going forward.
Up to October 16, the police had received 317 reports of rapes islandwide since the start of the year, a 29.4 per cent decline – or 132 fewer cases – than reported for the corresponding period in 2020. St Catherine North reported the most cases (37).
Of the 506 participants in the NCU online survey conducted between June and August this year – Inquiry into Sexual Assault Among Young Jamaicans – some 184 respondents said that they have been sexually assaulted since March 2020, when the first coronavirus case was detected locally.
The majority were assaulted by a friend or relative (38.5%), with one in four saying that the perpetrator was a family member other than a father or stepfather (25.6%).
Fifteen per cent of victims did not know their attackers, while fathers, stepfathers, and taxi operators each accounted for 4.5 per cent of perpetrators, respectively. Additionally, four persons were raped by their partners (husbands), two by members of their churches, and four by their co-workers.
Seventy persons were raped at home, 22 at school, 21 in vehicles other than taxis, nine in bushes, six in taxis, five at a friend’s house, four in churches, two at villas, and one at a supermarket.
Of these, 108 victims told someone about their encounters while 101 had so far been keeping it to themselves.
“Persons who fall victims to assault may find it difficult to engage in the discussion involving the topic. Many victims of sexual assault are intensely traumatised, not only by the humiliation of their physical violation, but by the fear of being severely injured or killed,” the study suggested.
“Men assert their dominance through coercion and aggression towards females, leading to assault. Home, church, school are examples of environments where people are presumed safe ... and the research proves that these incidents take place in environments where individuals feel safe,” it added, while noting that although most victims were not physically harmed, 17.6 per cent were threatened into silence with violence.
“Based on research conducted, there was little recourse for justice as the current definition of rape in Jamaica does not consider forcible anal penetration as rape but as ‘buggery’. The cultural legal framework only protects female survivors of forcible sexual violence under the law criminalising carnal abuse,” it concluded.
It was years after the first incident that Sherika’s curious mother confronted her about her father’s abuse. It was then that she spoke up.
To date, she has not told anyone of the other perpetrators, including the owner of the land her mother and nine children have been leasing for several years, and another a relative’s spouse.
All her attackers, including her father, were gunmen in her community at the time of the incidents, a fact which scared her into silence, she told The Sunday Gleaner.
They all still live in the area, where she still officially resides and from which she is desperately trying to make enough funds to leave.
“With the landowner, I was 14 coming from school and it was raining. He called me into the house saying that his babymother said I should come out of the rain. He asked me if I wanted to make my mother pay no lease, and as a child, I was thinking, ‘What does lease have to do with me?’ He called me into the room, and I like a fool followed him,” she reflected.
She was locked inside the room and despite her screams, she said, her attacker’s spouse – who was also in the house and who she swears must have heard – made no attempt to help.
In another incident, two years later, she went to collect money from her relative’s babyfather at a barber shop one afternoon. He told her where to find the cash in a familiar back room. While looking for the cash, her attacker entered, locked the door, and raped her at gunpoint. After that, there were more threats of death in exchange for her silence.
“And I think one of the main things is that all of these people had and still have some amount of power over me or my situation,” she explained, noting that her confession about her father and the secret her mother kept from the police would drive a wedge between her parents and end their marriage.
“It was only recently that I actually gathered the courage to talk to my father, and to this day, every time I know I am going to see him, I have to build up the courage. Sometimes I am depressed the whole night before I go up there,” she said of the childhood community she now tries to stay away from as much as possible.
“It has affected every part of my life – school, relationships; it has affected me as a parent,” she explained, noting that her infant daughter is the only ray of happiness in her life right now.