Because nobody gets raped in England, do they?

Picture of Stephen McPartland, a white man with short brown hair wearing a white shirt, dark grey suit jacket and blue tieBBC News - Barbados rapes: MP warns travellers island is 'unsafe'

Stephen McPartland, Tory MP for Stevenage, has been putting pressure on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to declare that Barbados is “not a safe place” until the police there properly investigate the rape of two British women in 2010. The police there responded by arresting the wrong man, which prompted the two victims to come forward and say that the man was in fact innocent. One of the victims, Dr Rachel Turner, originally comes from Letchworth (which is not in McPartland’s constituency but in NE Hertfordshire, which is held by Oliver Heald), but lives in Barbados and holds a post at the University of the West Indies.

I looked at the travel advice for Barbados from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office website and the US State Department. The main point of advice from the FCO was that homosexuality was not popular, homophobic attitudes remain common, there is no gay scene and laws against sodomy remain on the statute books although are rarely enforced when such acts take place in private. As for crime, it says that crime does occur, “including armed robbery and sexual assaults, as well as opportunist thefts of wallets, handbags, jewellery and personal possessions”, that firearms have been used, and that “victims of sexual assaults have criticised the Barbados authorities’ response, including the level of support received”. However, it starts by saying that the majority of visits are trouble-free.

The fact that two incidents of rape within a week or two have not been properly investigated and the rapist has not been caught does not mean that Barbados is not safe, or at least less safe than anywhere else. Rape happens everywhere, including here in the UK, and the UK’s police response in some areas has been pretty inadequate. In London, for example, it has been revealed that before 2009, when the Sapphire unit (which deals with sexual offences) came under centralised command, the Sapphire unit had been putting pressure on victims to withdraw their complaints so that it could artificially inflate its detection rates. There have been many cases where serial rapists took years to find and convict: Delroy Grant, a burglar who raped a number of elderly women in south London, was free for 19 years after his first rape in 1990 (his last was in 2009). Even in the stereotypical case of a rapist jumping out of a bush or breaking into someone’s home, it often takes years (and several further offences) to find the attacker. As for why Barbadian police have not found the two women’s attacker, who is to say he even lives in Barbados? He could have taken a plane or a boat out of the country since, possibly to another Caribbean island or the UK.

The fact that the Barbados police rapidly arrested the wrong man might suggest that Barbados is really more dangerous for Black men than white women, but police picking up the wrong man and running with the idea of his guilt like a dog with a bone happens in the UK too. One remembers the case of Colin Stagg, who was arrested and held on remand for the murder of Rachel Nickell in south-west London in 1992, and cleared at trial after the judge rubbished the method by which his confession was obtained; another man, serial rapist Robert Napper, admitted the crime in 2008 and is being held indefinitely in Broadmoor. There have been quite a number of cases both here and in the USA of men being freed after years in jail for rapes and rape-murders they did not commit, because DNA proved that they could not have done it (Stephan Kiszko being a well-known example here). A few years ago, a British toddler was kidnapped in (predominantly white) Portugal and has not been found; there also, the blame was focussed for some time on an innocent man. To my mind, nobody is suggesting British tourists with young children do not go there.

I’m sure a Tory MP would not be saying the same if a rape of a British tourist or expatriate was not properly investigated in, say, the USA (even somewhere like Mississippi) or Australia. Because it’s a small Caribbean country, he makes out that it is some sort of banana republic where if you get raped, you’re on your own, and there’s no point going to the police because they’ll just lock up the first man of the same colour they find. Most countries have their share of rapists, and their share of incompetent and bent coppers, including countries where British tourists go, and including this country. Lots of British tourists go to countries where the crime rate is higher than London (let alone the suburb or small town they come from) and where the police and judicial systems are not held in quite the same regard as ours, rightly or wrongly. It is quite ludicrous (and frankly, it smacks of racism) that McPartland thinks the FCO should warn against travel to a relatively safe country on the grounds that one rapist has not been caught. This series of events could have happened anywhere.

Image source: Wikipedia.

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