Saturday, July 23, 2011

Would your candidate jail rapists? Maybe

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 16 July 2011)  

Question 5:
The laws of Guyana currently allow for perpetrators of rape to settle financially with the victim, thereby dodging the justice system and leaving a rapist on the streets to rape again. Would you be willing to champion a change in legislation that would enable the state to prosecute rapists based on the evidence regardless of whether there is a civil settlement?

PPP/C Presidential Candidate Donald Ramotar

Yes, that is a fair position. I don’t think the people should escape justice because they have money or because they can raise money and buy themselves out. Rape is a crime. Rape is a criminal offence. Just like how they say murder doesn’t have any statute of limitations, I think rape, too, should not have that limitation so people could be charged at any time – because I think it is a crime. It is a criminal activity. Yes, I think it could be done and it should be done.

AFC Presidential Candidate Khemraj Ramjattan
(Small portions of this interview were edited out for space)
I agree with civil settlements. I am in total agreement with civil settlements, but it must be accompanied with some criminal penalty. Because of the nature of Guyana’s economy, a girl being raped forcibly is going to be damaged, of course, and [there should be] recompense in the form a compensatory package or something that the man can afford, very many of them cannot afford it in Guyana, but once he can afford it, the girl should get it.

That should not wholly then exculpate him from criminal penalties. There must be some criminal penalties.

That criminal penalty could be lessened to the extent that he compensates. I believe in that. And a lot of women have indicated to me, especially the mothers, “But when he get out of jail, he get out of jail. I want him to get a little bit of jail, but I want him to give this girl $600,000 or a million dollars. It will help her.” You have to understand the value system we have here, too.

It must not be a substitute in lieu of criminal penalties. It should go a far way in at least accommodating a lessening of the penalty because he is [already] somewhat paying a penalty. So that is good enough. Like when someone pleads guilty as against going through a trial, the penalty for the one going through a whole, long trial and is found guilty, he will get the higher penalty.

So if he [the rapist] comes and pleads and says, “Alright, I’m going to give her a compensation,” and he gets two years instead of ten years without the compensation – I have no problem. It’s also going to cut judicial time, jury time, judges’ time and so on. So there is a pragmatism about my approach on that question.

But he must not, in any way, avoid criminal penalties. There must be some criminal penalties if he is guilty.

APNU Presidential Candidate David Granger
(Small portions of this interview were edited out for space)

Yes, I would champion such a cause. I think that a person who commits that offence, particularly repeatedly and if there is some indication that the person may have a flawed character, I think it would be necessary to give that person treatment and maybe incarcerate the person to revenge for the abuse. And the laws must treat that crime, not as a one-off event, but as something that indicates that the person is likely to be a habitual or repeat offender.

A financial settlement does not cater for persons in that category. So a rich person could rape repeatedly. Is that what the law is trying to say? I don’t believe that that could be right because the victims are out there and they continue to suffer. From what I have read in the newspapers, there have been instances of abuse in which persons have been repeatedly abused by known assailants.

In this regard, I would like to call attention to the plight of Indigenous girls who are trafficked into mining and timber/logging areas and there is every indication that some of those girls are underage, which means that rape is involved – if those girls are sexually abused – the abuse would constitute rape.

I do believe that the present government is not active enough in searching out cases of trafficking in persons. As a journalist I have looked into it, I have published reports, and as president I will look into it.

Even this year when I was in the Barima-Waini region I received credible reports that trafficking is still prevalent in the Barima-Waini region of this country. There are credible reports. But the administration seems to be blind. As far as I am concerned, that is abuse. That is rape.

 My response:
I asked this question of the three men campaigning to be president of Guyana because there is a definite tone of frustration amongst women’s advocates when rapists skip away from justice because they have bought off the victim or her family. Like Ramjattan, I consider a mixture of criminal penalties and civil penalties to be a good balance in this situation.

However, unlike Ramjattan, I do not think a civil settlement should go “a far way” in the lessening of the penalty.” I think it should go a little way. It definitely should not cut eight years out of a ten-year sentence by any means. That is far too generous in my opinion.

Granger’s opening statement baffles me, as it would appear there are many “ifs” in Granger’s idea of how to punish a rapist. If he rapes repeatedly? If he indicates a character flaw? (Wouldn’t the rape already constitute as a character flaw?) Give the rapist treatment and “maybe” incarcerate him?
Maybe? I would really like to see a leader stand strong on this issue, but that is not going to be Ramotar either. Again, he said all the right words, but there was no zeal on this topic from him either.

The answers to this question were just too wishy-washy. Could it be that even the nation’s leaders are desensitised to the atrocity of rape? We have lots of right answers like “it is a criminal activity” (yes, we knew that) and we have some “pragmatism” too, but where is the fervour to get rapists off the streets of Guyana?

Granger does find some grit when talking about the trafficking of Amerindian girls. I agree with him fully, but that ardour should encompass all the women of Guyana. Ramotar suggests lifting the statute of limitations. And Ramjattan, well, he is pragmatic.

Rating:  Ramotar – 1.5; Ramjattan – 1.5; Granger – 1.5.

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