WOMEN in Guyana, as everywhere else, are at risk of experiencing sexual violence from non-partners such as family, friends, community members or strangers. Non-partner sexual violence (NPSV) include (but is not limited to) forced or attempted forced intercourse (rape), unwanted sexual touching and sexual harassment.
Similar to Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), half of the women who reported experiencing NPSV had never disclosed the experience to anyone, while among those who did, 50 per cent confided in a female or male family member. Although 36 per cent of the women reported being supported by their confidant, only five per cent were encouraged to report it to the police, according to a recently-released Guyana Women’s Health and Life Experiences Survey Report.
The survey was executed as a collaborative project between the government, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Women; the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); the Global Women’s Institute of George Washington University; the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB); the University of Guyana (UG) and the Canadian Institute of Health Research.
As regards to seeking help, few women in Guyana sought help from formal services after a sexual assault. Among women who reported non-partner sexual assault, only 12 per cent reported the incident to the police and nine per cent sought help from a healthcare provider. The lack of disclosure to institutional actors may be legitimised by the outcomes of their reports: fewer than half of women reporting assault to the police said a case was opened and only 15 per cent of police reports resulted in conviction. Among women who sought help from a healthcare provider, only one third were offered treatment for preventing pregnancy or for preventing HIV. Seven per cent received counselling to work through the emotional consequences of their experience.
These and other experiences are congruent with inconsistencies between institutional policy and responses described in the qualitative study. In the qualitative study, victims and community members described responses to reporting violence as dependent on the person on duty to receive complaints and that person’s beliefs regarding the causes of violence.
Meanwhile among a targeted group of women, ages ranging from 15 to 64 years, 16 per cent reported experiencing at least one act of NPSV involving physical contact during their lifetime (including forced and attempted intercourse and unwanted sexual touching), while two per cent said this happened within the 12 months preceding the survey. However, 17 per cent said that they had experienced at least one situation of sexual harassment.
FORCED SEXUAL INTERCOURSE
Seven per cent of respondents reported experiencing forced sexual intercourse during their lifetime. Additional analysis indicated that age is associated with statistically significant differences in the rate of some types of NPSV. Adolescent and young adult respondents reported the highest rate of lifetime non-partner rape at 10 per cent. It is possible that older women have experienced NPSV but are unable to recall the details of their experiences in the more distant past.
Women also reported experiencing attempted, but not completed, forced sexual intercourse and unwanted sexual touching, eight per cent and 10 per cent respectively. However, unwanted sexual touching, such as being groped in public spaces, is the most common form of NPSV involving physical contact, occurring at higher rates in every age group and with statistically significant variation among them.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND TRANSACTIONAL SEX
Sexual harassment is the most common form of NPSV, reported by 17 per cent of respondents. Young women, 15 to 24 years old, suburban women and women with an education beyond secondary, reported statistically significant higher rates of sexual harassment than the survey group at large: 28 per cent, 27 per cent, and 30 per cent, respectively, reported receiving unwanted electronic sexual content or discourse. Conversely, transactional sex is the least reported form of NPSV. Only two per cent of women reported being asked for sex in exchange for advantages or avoiding disadvantages at school or work.
As with sexual harassment, women between the ages 15 to 24 years old, suburban and more educated, reported experiencing this particular form of violence at a higher rate (three per cent) than the larger group, though the differences are not statistically significant due to overall low number of women reporting transactional sex.
SEXUAL ABUSE DURING CHILDHOOD
As it relates to sexual abuse during childhood, 13 per cent of respondents indicated that they had experienced child sexual abuse, with 20 per cent claiming they experienced sexual abuse at any age. Child sexual abuse tracks with other forms of abuse when separated by location, from 10 per cent in urban settings to 18 per cent in the hinterland, but the differences are not statistically significant, the survey stated.
Sexual abuse at any age, however, is statistically significant. Overall, women in the hinterland communities reported sexual abuse at any age, at twice the rate of women in urban settings (28 per cent versus 14 per cent). In the qualitative study, there were victim recollections from adolescence, of family support for or facilitation of relationships with older men who could provide needed financial support for the teen and family, which may contribute to higher rates of coerced sexual relationships.
FIRST SEXUAL EXPERIENCE
The majority of women (70 per cent) reported that their first sexual experience was desired and consensual. For the remainder, however, the experience was either coerced (24 per cent) or forced (six per cent). Women in suburban and hinterland communities reported statistically significant lower rates of consensual sexual debut than the overall proportion (65 and 54 per cent, respectively) as well as the respective higher rates of coercion or force in their first sexual experience. This may also be correlated to economically-motivated sexual relationships in the reported statistics in the preceding paragraph.