by Judy M McCutcheon
Is the #MeToo movement causing men to get a bad rap? Or are the ones accused actually guilty? It is frustrating to listen to all the talk about how innocent men will be wrongly be accused.
A friend sent me a Whatsapp message with an agreement that men are asking women to sign (jokingly of course) before engaging in any sexual activity and it really incensed me, because it appears that we are not taking these accusations seriously. What is the percentage of men who will be wrongly accused, compared to the percentage of women and girls who are actually abused? I am not saying that there won’t be women who will not try to capitalise on this movement, but the odds are that they will be far less than the women who are actually abused. At the risk of being ridiculed and put to shame, we have seen many women come forward after years of suffering in silence. Why do you suppose this is so? Look at the Brent Kavanagh’s case, for instance; he was made to look by many including women and the holder of the highest office in the USA as if he’s the victim and Christine Ford’s story was a lie. I am sure you will remember Anita Hill and the embarrassing and demeaning questions she’s had to endure at the hands of an all-male Senate judiciary committee. We need to break the silence on sexual abuse, and we must do it now for the sake of our girls. So, no I will not get off the soapbox about this issue, nor will I STHU and go away.
What does all of this mean for us in the Caribbean? Maybe we need to start a #CaribbeanMeToo movement so that we can give our girls a voice and a safe place to rest. Let them know that it’s not okay for men or women for that matter to take advantage of them sexually. Let them know it is not okay to trade sexual favours for a job, a taxi ride or a box of KFC. Parents and guardians, it is important that you reinforce the positive with your children, let them know they are awesome, let them know that they are loved to the maximum that you can love them. Don’t allow them to go looking for love and acceptance in all the wrong places. Reassure them that they are perfect as they are. We must help them to accept themselves. I know how hard it is for teenage girls to believe that their bodies are gorgeous just the way it is – I have two teenage daughters. Social media and fashion magazines constantly distort the reality for girls, when they show the perfect photoshop body of celebrities. Let your girls know that we all have cellulite, some of us just have more than others. It is really about teaching them a lesson in acceptance of themselves and others; it’s about building their self-esteem and self-worth. It’s about raising strong women.
But what does this really mean for us as a generation of #MeToo’s? Have we normalised sexual violence in our societies? Is our socialisation as girls to be blamed for our silence on the issue? The seemingly innocent touch from an uncle or a male friend of the family, and the fear of telling your parents because you think they won’t believe you, seems prevalent. Someone told me of a rape victim that was made to marry her rapist because she got pregnant, apparently getting pregnant is worse than getting raped. Is our culture allowing sexual violence to be normalised? We thrive on blaming the victim. Therefore girls are afraid to report abuse because it’s a horror they will have to relive every time they testify. We may ask ourselves why such a long time pass between the abuse and the report? And I want to submit that unless you have been a victim of rape or sexual abuse, it is difficult to understand. There is a process of shame and the guilt that the victim goes through. Victims blame themselves, especially little girls. They think it’s because they have been bad and that they deserve it. Ladies stop using your daughters for your economic sustainability. If you know of abuse, report it, don’t let your daughters suffer because you need to eat.
As a Caribbean society, it is our collective responsibility to ensure that our girls are not sexually abused. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that our women have a safe space if they have been raped, and it is our collective responsibility to ensure that laws are in place to adequately punish the perpetrators. We must change our attitudes towards rape and sexual abuse because what affects one girl, affects all of us. I was reading last week about a situation at a local school, where one parent said that they did not get involved because they were not affected, but suddenly got involved because the situation eventually affected them. That is the kind of attitude that allows sexual abuse to flourish. We have to go back to being our brothers’ keeper; we need to be a lot less critical and more supportive. Part of the long-term effects of sexual abuse is a cycle of poverty which puts a strain on a country’s resources. Therefore, we must understand that sexual abuse is everybody’s business.
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Judy McCutcheon is a partner in the firm Go Blue Inc, a Human Development Company. www.goblueinc.net
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