By Makeida Antonio
Sometimes, the highly specific language used in law prevents the media from explicitly calling certain sex crimes what they are; for example — rape.
Recently, backlash has been spreading across social media as outraged citizens commented on controversial cases coming out of the country’s courts last week.
On Thursday, Cabinet Spokesperson Melford Nicholas also indicated that Cabinet ministers held a discussion with hospital officials regarding an 11-year-old pregnant girl who has been admitted to the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre due to concerns that the pregnancy may be life-threatening.
On Saturday, Observer reported that a 21-year-old man will be sentenced on June 24 after he was convicted of committing incest against his five-year-old niece.
Despite the public’s outcry for these indecent acts against minors to simply be called “rape”, a leading Attorney-at-Law, Wendel Robinson, clarified that the Sexual Offences Act (1995) makes provisions for several categories of rape, and one must appreciate the differences between them the way the police and the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) would, in order to determine which charges are to be laid against an accused person.
Therefore, he suggested that stakeholders should mount campaigns geared at educating the public about the law.
“It is best to stick to the specific language. What I think needs to be done is for those persons who are a part of the criminal justice system — prosecutors or police officers, even the Bar Association — have some public awareness programmes where they can teach members of the public, or even a Facebook page where persons can be guided as to the sections of the Act and the process at sentencing,” Robinson told Observer during an interview over the weekend.
He went on further to describe the different categories of rape.
“You have rape which I call ‘rape simplicita’ as in adult male and adult female who is not the wife of the male person, and you have rape, ‘statutory rape’ in which the girl is under the age of 14 which carries the same penalties as rape simplicita. Then, you have unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl who is under 16, but this time the girl is of the age of 14, which is rape again in a certain way but of a different quality and is considered of a less serious nature.”
Robinson advised the public to understand the reason why certain language may be used in describing these heinous crimes.
“Incest is rape, properly speaking, but it is a different category. It involves sexual intercourse with a person who is a family member of a certain category. It might not include fifth and sixth cousins, but it certainly includes cousins, uncles, nieces, nephews, these kind of things,” he added.
Additionally, he explained that while the act is referred to as sexual intercourse with a family member, the law acknowledges why consent cannot be given in that instance.
“If you go under Section 8, which deals with the offence of incest, there cannot be any consent because of the blood relation. One has to appreciate all the different categories and penalties attached to the different categories of rape and sexual intercourse in circumstances which the law forbid.”
Meanwhile, youth and gender advocate Dr Cleon Athill provided further clarity on the ways rape can be addressed in society.
Dr Athill has had a wealth of experience in giving direction on policymaking in the Department of Youth Affairs and the Directorate of Gender Affairs.
She understands that legal jargon is used to describe indecent acts against children; however, a social context must be laid when referring to these disturbing crimes.
“When we talk about sexual intercourse in the context of a relationship, we are presupposing that the two persons have some level of equality, some level of what it is that they are doing and that the two people would have consented. That is why if an 18-year-old was sexually violated by that same 21-year-old, we wouldn’t dare say ‘sexual intercourse’,” Dr Athill noted during an interview yesterday.
Dr Athill believes that a number of people have experienced sexual trauma in Antigua and Barbuda and suggested that reporters need to be “double sensitive” when reporting on sex crimes.
“Maybe you can’t say rape, but you certainly cannot say sexual intercourse either. You can use the law as a guide because the law says having sex with someone below the age of 16 is a violation, so the person cannot consent. It is either statutory rape, incest or sexual assault.”
While it may appear that rape cases are coming before the courts more frequently, Robinson noted that the courts have adopted a new policy which expedites the hearing of these matters.