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“Controversy makes distinction clear: rape is not sex”
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“Controversy makes distinction clear: rape is not sex”

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Alicia Wallace picA festival in the Bahamas has sparked renewed debate about the factors behind violence against women, writes Alicia Wallace, 29, a Correspondent from Nassau, Bahamas.

The people of The Bahamas have recently come to terms with the fact that a new festival is being brought to the country. In impassioned exchanges on the topic of the Trinidad-inspired Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival, much of the focus is put on the women of The Bahamas and the costumes designed for them to wear.

The Bahamas Christian Council made bold, sweeping statements about the festival, zeroing in on the “immodest costumes” and the sexual violence they would inspire.

“We are of the view that the promotion of immodest costumes, such as those displayed for use in the upcoming Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival, will not only promote promiscuity, but fornication, rape, incest, and other sins of the flesh as well,” said Dr. Ranford Patterson, president of the Christian Council.

As Director of Hollaback! Bahamas, I have serious concerns about carnival, especially given the high rate of street harassment experienced here. Those concerns, however, do not outweigh or erase the right every woman has to participate in the festival, free of judgment, shame, and acts of sexual violence.

The statement made on behalf of the Bahamas Christian Council is problematic on many levels. Let’s focus on the views on rape presented.

The statement suggests that rape is sex or, at the very least, is about sex. It is shocking and disappointing that sex and rape are still being confused. Far too often we see newspaper articles referring to statutory rape as “sex with a minor”. Far too often we see rape being called “unlawful sex”. It is unclear whether this is due to a fear of the word, or discomfort with the truth that lies within it.

The difference between sex and rape is clear. Sex requires consent while rape is a violation. Rape is about power and control – not sexual desire.

Rape has never been caused by physical environments, music, dancing, or costumes. The only common denominator in cases of rape is the rapist. It is, therefore, crystal clear that the only entity guilty of rape is the rapist.

The Bahamas Christian Council’s statement is misleading as it suggests the blame for rape should rest with the victim, based on the choices made by the victim. The burden is now on civic organizations to repair the damage done and ensure that:

–       Sexual assault victims are not blamed

–       The distinction is made between sex and rape

–       Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival is not used as a scapegoat for acts of sexual violence

–       The free will and ability to make decisions of perpetrators is recognized

–       Women have the right to dress as they wish

–       Women have the right to participate in festivals without the threat of sexual assault

The Bahamian people must be educated on consent and body autonomy. We cannot allow organizations to spew ignorance, hatred, or unfounded claims under the guise of morality. Our people must have the freedom to dress, move, and participate in festivals as they see fit. No door should be shut on a woman because of her sex, and no perpetrator should slip into the shadows because the spotlight is trained on a woman’s costume. We will not be silent. As educated people with clear understanding of the issues at hand, we must not allow our voices to be drowned out by the less enlightened. As their voices rise, so shall ours, in greater than equal measure.

This article first appeared as a blog in Stop Street Harassment

photo credit: IMG_7972.jpg via photopin (license)

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About me: I am a writer and blogger living and working in Nassau, Bahamas. I’m a women’s rights activist and youth advocate. Trained in economics and finance, I believe improving the educational system will result in a higher rate of civic participation. My work has been in the non-profit world. I am Director of Hollaback! Bahamas, a global movement to end street harassment, co-founder of Coalition to End Gender-based Violence & Discrimination, and Director of Equality Bahamas’ educational campaign

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit:
http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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