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A new movement has sprung up in the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, demanding an end to violence against women. But the government of the twin island state, just off the coast of Venezuela in the southern Caribbean, has been accused of ignoring a study’s recommendations to reduce murder and domestic abuse. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports with help from cameraman Dylan Quesnel.
A new movement has sprung up in the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago demanding an end to what is being called a plague of violence against women.
But the government of the twin island state, just off the coast of Venezuela in the Southern Caribbean, has been accused of ignoring a major study's recommendations aimed at reducing the rate of murder and domestic abuse.
Trinidad's borders are currently closed because of the pandemic. So, special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reported from in Britain, and cameraman Dylan Quesnel filmed in Trinidad.
And a warning:
Accounts in this story may upset some viewers.
We demand to be safe!
Women are marching to reclaim Trinidad's streets from sexual predators, kidnappers and murderers.
We want to walk free, not brave.
We want to walk free, not brave!
After this demonstration, I got a message about yet another femicide. A 7-year-old boy cried for help as his mother was attacked by his machete-wielding father. They found 36-year-old Adeina Alleyne hacked to death. Her husband hanged himself.
Adeina posted this picture on Facebook a month before her murder.
Melissa Cassim runs a group called I Won't Be Silenced.
Being a woman in Trinidad is terrifying. It's beyond scary, because we're now afraid to walk our streets. We're afraid to go down the street to get a newspaper. We're afraid to walk to the gas station or the nearest shop.
Two recent funerals have galvanized women to demand an end to a culture of violence on the streets and in the home.
Twenty-two-year-old court clerk Andrea Bharatt disappeared after taking a taxi in late January. Her battered body was discovered six days later. Andrea's murder followed the kidnapping of 18-year-old Ashanti Riley. She was also last seen getting into a taxi. Ashanti was found in a stream five days later. She'd been raped, stabbed and beaten.
While politicians sit on their hands, church leaders are speaking out.
Pastor Steve Riley:
For she is our mother, she is our daughter, she's our aunt, she's our niece, she's our cousin, she's our sister. She is not our enemy. Women's lives matter!
This is Ashanti Riley's grave. Her mother, Candace, is waiting for the earth to settle before erecting a tombstone.
They say that's how — give it time, time will heal. But, to me, time will never heal.
Is there anything you would like to say to the rest of the world about what is happening in Trinidad?
What's happening in Trinidad, it's a very sad thing that our country has come to this, women are — now who are living in fear of man, because, if it's not gun violence, it's by domestic violence. And it hurts me to know I'm living in a country that these things is happening.
In defiance of lockdown rules, candlelight protests have become a regular fixture.
On the day of this demonstration, news broke of a 53-year-old woman beaten to death by a relative and a 76-year-old woman robbed and raped in her own home.
We are here in a war, a war for a better Trinidad and Tobago, when we are saying to the powers that be we have had just about enough!
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
2020 was a brutal year in this nation of 1.4 million; 47 women and girls were murdered.
New tonight here at 10:00, the search is on to find the killer of a 25-year-old woman.
In contrast, 49 women were murdered in Philadelphia last year. Philly has a similar population to Trinidad and had 500 murders, it's worst record for 60 years. Trinidad had 100 fewer homicides, but the percentage of women killed in Trinidad was slightly higher, although the real death toll may be even worse.
More than 400 women were reported missing. Some were found, but it's feared others were trafficked into prostitution or killed, and their bodies hidden.
One common complaint is that politicians only talk tough at election time.
Successive governments would come in, and they would just try to outdo each other in terms of the fines, in terms of the prison sentences. But, by now, they should have figured out that, by itself, isn't going to work.
Randy Seepersad heads the a criminology program at the University of the West Indies. He's critical of the government for ignoring a study by the Inter-American Development Bank.
Among its recommendations, greater help for women needing to escape from violent situations, major improvements in police procedures, including more sensitivity and swifter action, better public information campaigns and education about violence against women.
We don't really see some of the more progressive types of initiatives in the criminal justice system and in the society at large.
Certainly from the side of the public, there appears a lot of willingness. But the politicians don't seem to want to engage with some of the more advanced types of thinking and approaches to dealing with the problem.
We want justice.
We want justice!
Requests to discuss the women's movement with Prime Minister Keith Rowley went unanswered.
In what some see as an abrogation of responsibility, the island's police chief, Gary Griffith, has urged women to do more to save themselves.
There's nothing against a woman having a firearm. A firearm is something that can be an asset to you.
Legal experts warn that women using guns could find themselves in trouble, because the right to self-protection has not been properly enshrined in law.
But they approve of pepper sprays, which are currently illegal.
I am recommending that this here can be a regulated item, where it's registered for each and every person who wants to get pepper spray.
Another area crying out for reform is the registration of taxi drivers, so that they can be tracked and traced.
Activists want the police to become more interventionist in domestic violence by overcoming a cultural acceptance that what takes place in a person's home stays within the family.
Another key change proposed by the study ignored by the government was about educating young people to become intolerant of violence against women.
Parents need to train the boy especially to respect young girls, to respect woman on a whole, because, at the end of the day, you come from a woman, and then you have sisters, you have aunts, you have cousins. You wouldn't want somebody to do your mother, your sister these things.
Nicole Herbert and Steven Edwards have joined forces to implement some of the changes recommended in the Inter-American study.
The recent murders have resurrected dreadful memories for Nicole Herbert, who was gang-raped 30 years ago. Back then, she kept quiet about her ordeal. But now she's gone public in an attempt to sensitize men and to encourage other women to speak out.
They are like deaf to your pleas and your cries, because I didn't want this to be done to me. And they overpowered me. And they took turns and raped me.
When I look back at that night, I tell myself, I could have been dead because they didn't know what to do with me.
Actor (through translator):
Just go inside, go inside, before you get some hand slap.
Actress (through translator):
Go on. Go on inside.
This short film by Steven Edwards about an aggressive husband is an effort to encourage men to take a stand against abuse.
For those potential abusers, what we want to do with the campaign is identify ways to prevent it from happening, or even if you are a perpetrator and you see yourself, we are trying to find avenues that men can come forward and say, look, I need help.
Trinidad and Tobago, famous for its Carnival, is currently sealed off from the rest of the world. The tourist industry is painting it as idyllic. But, for women there, it's nothing of the sort.
In spite of the fact that we're literally begging to be valued, I am terrified that it's just going to continue, that it will all be in vain.
We want change!
What puzzles crime experts is that politicians have nothing to lose by acceding to the women's demands. If violence wins, the twin island state risks being damned as a paradise lost.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant.
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Malcolm Brabant has been a special correspondent for the PBS Newshour since 2015.
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