You have not been paying enough attention
Hearteningly, it seems that many Bermudians disapprove of the comments made by Charles Richardson last Friday. It is encouraging to see so many speaking out against his behaviour. However, it seems as though many more either do not understand the issue or actively agree with Mr Richardson’s depiction of “the reality of what happens in Bermuda”.
If Mr Richardson and others would like to discuss the reality experienced by Bermudian women and girls, he need look no farther than the behaviour of his client, a pattern all too familiar on our island. If you are shocked by Mr Richardson’s comments, you have not been paying enough attention.
Some have argued that Mr Richardson was simply performing his duty to his client, coming up with a defence. There are several issues with this interpretation.
First, if his statements were indeed merely a defence of his client and not a reflection of his actual views on the subject, there would have been no reason for him to then suggest a statute that would have the basic effect of criminalising victims of statutory rape. It is already difficult enough for survivors to come forward, but to suggest legislation that would reduce the already very small number of survivors who do is, at best, disgusting behaviour.
Second, that Mr Richardson felt secure enough in his position — that a minor should be held accountable for a sex crime committed against her — to say as much in court speaks volumes. Our legal system is explicit: 13-year-olds are children and as such they cannot legally consent to sex. End of discussion.
If Mr Richardson would like to have a conversation about people who should know better than to behave the way they do, he should, with the greatest respect, begin with himself.
As disgusting as Mr Richardson’s comments are, however, he is merely a symptom of the wider problem. His position is simply a facet of an apparently commonly held view in Bermuda: that women and girls must be complicit in their own assaults. It is the response encountered by every survivor from the legal system, from their peers, and sometimes from their own families. The amount of cases the public do not see is staggering.
Statistically, very few sexual assaults are actually reported, and when they are an even smaller number result in convictions. Instead, what we have relied on is a whisper network: certain people you are told to watch your drink around, authority figures you are told to avoid, areas you are told not to walk through.
This is something that girls tend to become aware of at about 16 or 17, by which time many of them will already have been assaulted. I had maybe two or three friends growing up who had not been. If your reaction to that is shock, you have not been paying enough attention.
We have a culture on this island of teaching young boys that they can invade girls’ boundaries with impunity and young girls that they are responsible for those boys’ behaviour towards them. It is the same culture in which sex education classes fail to teach the importance of consent even though it is arguably the most important topic in any such conversation.
It is the same culture in which middle-aged men feel that it is appropriate to pull their bikes over to harass teenage girls on the street. It is the same culture that demonises survivors for ruining their rapists’ lives by reporting and bringing their experiences out in the open, rather than acknowledging that they have been victims of awful violence.
If you haven’t noticed this happening, you have not been paying enough attention.
Mr Richardson’s comments are inexcusable. He should absolutely have known better than to make them. However, they are not a surprise, not to any Bermudian survivor. They are simply an illustration of the present culture that must be changed. And so I would encourage those of you who have been shocked by this: start paying more attention.
Make it safe for survivors to tell their stories and get the justice they are owed. Make this island a safe place for girls to grow up. Raise your sons to understand consent and boundaries. Call your friends and relatives to account. It is not a comfortable path, nor an easy one, but the longer we continue to not pay attention, the more victims will have to learn to survive.
• Francesca Hanig-Dill is a Bermudian writer, musician and aspiring lawyer living in Oxford, England
• On occasion The Royal Gazette may decide to not allow comments on what we consider to be a controversial or contentious story. As we are legally liable for any libellous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.
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