Are women full human beings? Are they? It is not often that I write pieces which begin with such provocative questions.
But, I am forced to write in this way given the treatment of criminal acts committed against women and young girls. They are covered as though they were fairy tales. As victims of murders and assaults, they become phantoms, very quickly disappearing from media coverage and regarded as low priority areas for law enforcement officials. Worse yet, they often carry the burden of being blamed for their victimhood. In saying this, I know that there will be daggers pointed at me immediately, questioning if boys and men do not matter too.
Yes, they do.
Highlighting one form of injustice does not disqualify the merit of another. Similar arguments are made in relation to the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Don’t all lives matter? They should. However, societal constructs and historical practice have shown that certain groups of people are more disadvantaged than others. For instance, in the United States, Black Americans were the only grouping legally deemed as three-fifths of a human being and property. People have always been concerned about crime in general and escalating murders, robberies and the like. It is important, however, to note the risk factors, conditions and prejudices that contribute to different kinds of crimes and the increased vulnerability of particular groups. This gives us a better chance of reducing their frequency rather than approaching with a one-size-fits all crime strategy that ends up with little or no result.
On October 29th, 2018, Kimberly de Leon, a 42-year-old civil servant and mother was murdered at her residence at the Morne, Castries, St. Lucia. According to a news report published on St Lucia News Online on November 5th, 2018, residents reported hearing 7-10 shots being fired. Police had named her husband (who is a senior police officer) a person of interest at that time. The newspaper went on to state that, “a post-mortem has concluded that she sustained only one gunshot wound, and that was a fatal one to the head.
The post-mortem was conducted last Friday, reportedly by a new pathologist, according to reliable sources”. The only identified person of interest to-date is now on 100 days’ vacation leave.
Another report covered by Choice News would reveal that previously, two domestic violence reports had been reported by the deceased involving the person of interest.
This information would be later refuted by police sources who had given this information.
Amid public concern over a perceived lack of information and fear that the case would not be dealt with objectively, two responses, one from the Minister for Security and the other from the brother of the deceased warrant our attentiveness and the need for change.
The following is an exchange between the Minister for Security and a local reporter: Reporter: “Women have been killed every year…”
Minister: “And men.”
Reporter: “But let us look at women. We have not seen anything coming out of that.
With Chereece Benoit, Sadie last year. Nothing happening there. Any concerns?”
Minister: “Again we have to investigate this matter and the information that is given to the police. The police cannot be everywhere.
We are constrained by training, we are constrained by equipment, we are constrained by manpower and everything.
“It is a Herculean task for police to be able to solve all these matters. We want all matters to be solved. To just pick out women and say that women are being killed… Men are being killed. Look at the figures for this year.
We have 32 homicides, how many women? So, to just pinpoint and say women... Let us talk about the homicides. Let’s not put the gender and so on in it. Let’s just talk about the homicides that are there. It is a factor. Men are venerable (sic). Again, if you go and do victimology and so on, you will understand what victimology tells you, that the persons who are most… prone to crime are men. And then it goes further to tell you women and the elderly and so on. Because victimology tells you that there is a correlation between the criminal and the victim. There always is something."
Why is this problematic? Because there are different causes of murder; some result from robbery, are drug related, self-defense, domestic violence, intimate partner violence, sexual assault among other factors. If we can call crimes by their names, we can go straight to their root causes and not branches.
Williams de Leon, the brother of Kimberly de Leon, made the shocking revelation demonstrating why domestic abuse tends to be so fatal. Williams, according to an article on November 13, 2018 by St Lucia News Online, dismissed allegations of domestic violence, “It’s normal for people to assume what they want. But it was just rumours. I can tell you that. It was just verbal confrontation, that’s all. Not anything physical. It was just man and woman talk; just quarrelling,” he pointed out.
The latest news surrounding the investigation of this case came on November 22, 2018 from Police Commissioner, Severin Moncherry.
Moncherry indicated that samples had been sent for testing and that he was awaiting the results.
Public anxiety and apathy towards obtaining justice is understandable. There is a bloody history of murders of women and girls, whose cases have gone cold. Regrettably, their names are generally remembered when another sister is slain. There is a need to go beyond grief and outcry to fuel sustainable justice and the peace that our societies desperately need.
Police must be armed with not just weapons, but skills training, new knowledge and opportunities to specialize in areas that assist in implementing preventative and responsive measures. Yet, the police cannot be the end in itself and the panacea for all social crime.
There are numerous synergies which must be named between other departments and services.
These include providing human services with adequate financial and human resource needs, better avenues for reporting crimes, support systems and institutions that provide alternative safe spaces that victims can run too.
Also critical is the need to destroy ideas and ways of thinking that marginalize the severity of certain crimes and make them acceptable.
Government officials who hold influential roles in guiding policy and instituting reforms must continue to educate themselves and break away from cultural practices and norms that help perpetuate wrongdoings.
Within the regional landscape, two recent cases in particular confirm the need for eradicating prejudiced ways of thinking and the importance of a responsible and socially conscious media. In St Vincent and the Grenadines, iWitnessNews cited Assistant Commissioner of Police Richard Browne’s response when asked if increased reports of sex crimes were related to statutory rape, incest or rape.
Browne asserted: “I would just say that most of the offences that we have on our books now are offences of unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 13 and we know that those — I can’t find the right word right now; the word is in my head, but I can’t find it. The hormones then that work in the young ladies and the lack of guidance as well in the homes - [they are] part of our problem.
“We are going to try our best not only to investigate but to inform the public, to try and reach schools, talk to the children in the schools, try to educate them along these lines.
Some may say sexual education. But we are going to try our best to reduce those incidents of unlawful sexual intercourse with girls under the age of 13.” Additionally, in Trinidad and Tobago, the murder of a female officer, Rackel Kipps by her husband, Michael Youksee (also a police officer) who later went on to kill himself was covered initially by the Trinidad Express Newspapers as “a horn for a horn”.
A “horn” is parlance for cheating/infidelity.
The implications of covering murders in this manner euphemizes the tragedy of domestic violence and its effect on families, by portraying these events as if they were juicy soap operas on daytime television. It also implicitly normalizes murder as a response to alleged infidelity.
The hope is that advocacy for an improvement in justice is not dismissed or mistaken for condemnation. Moving beyond a strategy that sees crime as purely statistics, without description, may give us the opportunity to have more targeted and viable responses. Perhaps crime continues to be a perennial problem for our region because we have opted for business as usual band aids and short-term remedies for a generational problem.
(Rhyesa Joseph is a graduate student pursuing an MPhil in political Science having graduated with a first class honours degree in political science. Rhyesa.joseph@ mycavehill.uwi.edu)