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Culture of abuse: enough is enough, Bermuda

I write to you to express my anger and confusion over Charles Richardson's statement in court this past week; namely that his 20-year-old client should be treated lightly for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old because “it has become sport for young girls to see if they can have sex with an older guy”.

In short, Mr Richardson is an embarrassment to the legal profession of Bermuda, and he should be ashamed of his contribution to our odiously omnipresent culture of victim-blaming and brushing abuse under the carpet. But more importantly, I am writing because his words have insulted me as a human being, as a Bermudian woman and as a survivor of sexual assault.

When I was 15, I was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a man that I called my boyfriend. He was older than me and, after months of escalating transgressions, he proceeded to assault me in ways that I cannot in good faith repeat to your readers.

For weeks, I denied what happened to me. At first, I told myself that what had happened was just a misunderstanding — that he loved me, and this was just his way of showing it. I told myself that it would never happen again, and I pretended it was all a bad dream. But then it did happen again. And again. And again.

I remained silent, however, for fear that no one would believe me. Every time he did this to me, it was the middle of the night in an isolated place. As I was still a child, my biggest fear was that my parents would find out and ground me, so I kept our meetings secret. Moreover, he was my boyfriend — and who would believe that he had done that to me when he was such a nice man?

I was so ashamed of what had happened that I refused to tell anybody, haunted by the idea that this was somehow my fault.

For years, I blamed myself, asking myself over and over what I should have done differently. As I lay there, begging him to stop, was there more that I could have done? Should I have kicked and screamed? Should I have ignored his hand around my neck and taken my chances? Should I have prayed harder to God or Jesus or Buddha or some other celestial being that could have helped?

As a 15-year-old, I was unable to answer those questions, and it took me years to come to truly understand that none of what happened to me was my fault. As a 15-year-old, I could not have given consent, even if I had wanted to — and the same is true for the girl that Mr Richardson spoke so egregiously about.

I stayed quiet about what happened to me because I knew that if I said anything I would be met with exactly the kind of repugnant attitudes and language that Mr Richardson seems to believe is not only acceptable, but is legitimate enough to be used as a defence in our justice system. Had I spoken up then, I would have been blamed and shamed — just as I see Mr Richardson doing to his client's victim.

But I cannot stay silent any more. I refuse to let another generation of Bermuda's children grow up thinking that crimes committed against them are their fault.

Our laws and courts are meant to protect us; they are meant to protect young girls such as myself who were and are victims of violence, manipulation and abuse. We should be asking ourselves on a daily basis how we can improve our conduct to protect our children because every child that is raped, assaulted or abused is one too many.

We should not be asking ourselves to consider the insultingly ludicrous proposition that a fully grown man was so seduced by a 13-year-old child that he forgot that what he was doing was not only morally repugnant, but entirely illegal.

Mr Richardson should know that no matter how hard he tries to conjure the image of Jezebels or Lolitas, the victim of his client's crime is a child. As a lawyer, he should know that no person is responsible for the sexual crimes committed against them, regardless of what his opinion of them happens to be — particularly when that victim is a child.

Indeed, our laws on sexual assault and statutory rape are not there “to protect young women from themselves”, as he claims — they are there to protect children from the sexual desires of predators and abusers, not the other way around.

His words and malicious victim-blaming have no place in any courtroom, least of all in a 21st-century Bermudian one.

Enough is enough, Bermuda. We cannot continue to let views such as those of Mr Richardson continue to permeate our culture and harm our children. We as a country are so much better than this.

I may have been too afraid to speak up about what happened to me all those years ago, but when a lawyer states in court that the child victims of sex crimes should be “held accountable”, my disgust must be vocalised.

Mr Richardson, you should be ashamed of yourself.

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Published July 16, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated July 16, 2020 at 8:30 am)

Culture of abuse: enough is enough, Bermuda

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