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Open Letter to the Minister of Women's Rights: MLF Demands Rape Crisis Units to be Operational

21.02.2006

The Minister of Women's Rights, Ms. Indira Seebun,
CSK Building
Cnr Emmanuel Anquetil & Remy Ollier Streets
Port Louis

6th February, 2006

Dear Madam,

Muvman Liberasyon Fam expresses, through this letter to you, our support to Mrs. M.L Savriacooty who was sexually violated by a band of men on the 29th January in the Rose-Belle area. This aggression was all the more terrible, being a public one, before a crowd of onlookers. She was 3 months pregnant, as it turned out. We call on you, as Minister of Women's Rights to support Mrs. Savriacooty ensuring that she get all protection and assistance possible, including legal assistance from your Ministry.

Not only was Mrs. Savriacooty sexually assaulted in public, she also underwent further humiliation by the State. She was made to wait 24 hours before being examined by a Police Medical Officer. Dr Satish Boolell, who has confirmed the sexual aggression, has also denounced the deplorable delay in being called in. Such degrading and humiliating treatment by the State is unacceptable. We call on you to open up an enquiry immediately.

In particular, we demand that you, as Minister of Women's Rights ensure that this never happens to any woman again. The way to ensure that it doesn't, is to ensure that the two Rape Crisis Units that Government set up in Victoria and Jeetoo Hospitals in 2003 once again become operational at once. This time you should ensure, as your predecessor did not, that they become FULLY operational and stay operational. Such units should also then be set up in all major hospitals in the country, including in Rodrigues.

The previous government set up these two "existing" units on a Muvman Liberasyon Fam demand made in September 2002. The logic behind such a unit is that victims of sexual violence, instead of becoming part of a police and prosecution mechanism, be given immediate medical treatment, psychological treatment, and preventive treatment for STDs including AIDS. At the same time, they are thus examined medically outside of the frightening police station environment, by a Police Medical Officer, and are able to give their statement, as already is the case, to a police-woman, but now in a caring, "medical" environment. We specifically made this demand because of the generally accepted "double trauma" of victims who, after having been sexually violated, are subjected to gruelling, protracted police procedures, much of this in the unsupportive and patriarchal environment of the police station.

Our demand for Rape Crisis Centres was widely supported. The previous government did partially respond to our demand by setting up the two Rape Crisis Units in two major hospitals. In fact this was one important victory after Mrs. Sandra O'Reilly's bold exposure and tenacious struggle had provoked national debate on rape, which in turn resulted in a huge increase in national awareness about the need for all people to care for and support victims of sexual violence. However neither the previous government, nor this one is making any effort to popularise these Rape Crisis Units, which seem to have slowly withered away, or, as far as we can see, even vanished. The point about the "units" is that there is a "space" in the hospital that can be used as focal point in cases of sexual assault. Existing hospital staff then mobilise within this space.

Your Ministry together with the Ministry of Health should undertake to popularise (or if they have disappeared completely, to re-create and popularise) these units through a campaign on radio, TV and the press, through the National Women's Council, amongst all hospital staff, through Social Centres, in Area and Community Health Centres, in schools, thus making both public officers and the public at large aware of their existence and of their importance for victims. Everyone has to know about their existence for the simple reason that no woman expects, before the assault actually takes place, that she will in future suffer a rape.

We note with concern that many influential people are quick to call for more punishment for perpetrators of violence on women. Sometimes, some of them are so obsessed with goading for punishment and repression, which often only serves to increase generalised violence and misogyny in this patriarchal society we live in, that they forget the most important thing: the need to care for the victim. We hope that you, as Minister of Women's Rights, will in future, make it clear what you consider your priority to be.

Mrs Savriacooty is not the first woman to have undergone such terrible treatment by the State right after having suffered sexual violence. One young girl of 13 years who was raped in G.R.N.W. on the 21st of December, 2003 was taken to her home at 19.30 hours by a fisherman who when passing by, had seen her in distress. According to a press report, she then went to the Pointe aux Sables police station in her locality to give her statement. This took until 4.30 hours the next morning! It was only at midday when she was taken to Casernes Central that Police Medical Officer examined her, and only after that was she taken to hospital for medical treatment. As well as the unimaginable trauma, she was in acute pain.

The list of girls and women who have been submitted to similar humiliation by the State is already too long. It must stop. Now.

Muvman Liberasyon Fam