A LETTER writer recently claimed that “It was the bounden and civic duty of persons knowledgeable of rape in the Guyana National Service to report these incidents to the police.” Is this writer even aware that over 80 per cent of rapes are never reported today and that, that figure would have been much higher during the years of National Service, especially since in those days the stigma from rape would have been more pervasive? As American psychotherapist Beverly Engel puts it, “Victims are often too ashamed to come forward. Sexual assault is a very humiliating and dehumanising act against someone.” Also, then, even more than now, parents and family elders preferred to sweep rape and sexual assault under the carpet because of misplaced family honour. Then, more than now, too, victim-blaming was pervasive.
Besides, the political dynamics of those times would have made it impossible for rape victims to report the rapes. In fact, one would recall during those days a prominent PNC personality who allegedly raped a young lady from a very prominent family, but was exonerated by an “investigation.’’ Today, only a fraction – 25 per cent — of reported rapes lead to prosecution. In those days this fraction would have been even less. Imagine how much more cavalier that attitude would have been so many decades ago.
The writer then claims, “It is still not too late to do so (i.e. report those National Service rapes).” How many of those victims would still be around or still living in Guyana? How many of the perpetrators would still be around or still living in Guyana? Also, would medical evidence and other facets of those cases be available today? Would those victims want to revisit the horror of their rapes, decades later?
The writer also states, “Most of the administrators of the Guyana National Service (GNS) were recipients of national awards… It goes against the grain for anyone to think that administrators of such honourable repute will sit idly by and condone high incidences [sic] of rape under their watch.” Really? Is the writer aware that rapes in the military/paramilitary globally, has a higher rate than among the general population but very, very few victims ever report, and those who report are usually vilified and further victimised? Yet, military/paramilitary institutions are usually headed by “honourable” administrators.
Besides, is there an instance in the world, historically or in contemporary times, when a military/paramilitary head has admitted to the rape culture? Even here in the U.S., while umpteen reports have pointed to this reality and many victims are now coming forward to report rapes, no head/admin has ever made any public statement on this.
The simple fact is even the most honourable person generally does not breach a group cultural wall such as the rape-culture wall that existed in the GNS; one which was reinforced by an almost pervasive masochistic behaviour, toxic masculinity and patriarchal mindset.
The writer then makes an incursion into his own experiences, to claim that, “National Service is about discipline, a trait which is sadly lacking in our society. With discipline comes exemplary work ethics, punctuality, leadership, respect for each other, educational pursuits, and many other desirable aspects of nation building.” The issue of whether these traits actually saturate those who went through National Service is debatable at best, but, in any case, aren’t these traits supposedly inculcated by militaries also? I served for eight years in the U.S. military so I’m absolutely aware of what is inculcated, what obtains and what is covered up. The simple fact is that discipline inculcated in military/paramilitary institutions is a state of order and obedience within, characterised by prompt and willing responsiveness to orders and unquestionable acceptance of compliance to regulations. It is not the kind of discipline that necessarily fosters ethical, humane and emphatic behaviour, especially when the institution, like National Service, was built for purposes other than what traditional militaries are tasked with.