Updated: Sep 19
The statement released by the TTPS is unfortunate for many reasons, not least of which include the fact that our organisations work together to improve the national gender based violence response system and it was seemingly written in response to claims not made by us.
Upon investigation, it appears that the Commissioner was responding to a Newsday article that picked up our online statement in solidarity with the Venezuelan community. The article inaccurately referenced that no perpetrators were arrested in relation to the 484 reports of sexual assault captured in a JSC report. As it turns out, WOMANTRA made no reference to arrests but rather to a lack of accountability to these women, which speaks to far broader concerns around multisystemic gaps and shortcomings. More specifically, the JSC report highlights the following: "The low rate of prosecution of cases of sexual exploitation during the period 2013 to 2019, that is, out of 484 reports received there were 57 charges and zero convictions." By any measure, these statistics are still not good enough and speak to the urgent need for further dedicated intervention. But more importantly, the article that appears to have ignited the TTPS response not only excluded our statement’s reference to alarming evidence that police officers have been engaged in human trafficking and the sexual abuse of migrant women—claims that we continue to assert the CoP should publicly address—it also failed to reference the calls to action made to the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago, fellow NGOs and social media news outlets, and the broader public to improve and be more sensitive in our responses to and coverage of incidents of gender based violence.
WOMANTRA has also on multiple occasions and platforms acknowledged the TTPS for its efforts to fill some of these gaps, one of which was in a June 6th publication by Newsday commending the good work of the TTPS and that the GBVU had made up to 106 arrests at that time. Therein, we called for continued collaboration and the development of interagency communication protocols and monitoring and evaluation frameworks. However, as members of civil society, with the specific mandate to advocate on behalf of women, we are obliged to continue raising awareness around issues that disproportionately affect women. Contributions that seek to raise awareness about these gaps in the hopes of improving systems cannot be reduced to attacks on the TTPS or the police commissioner, especially when the entire justice system is failing to guarantee justice for victims of sexual and gender based violence.
On viewing the release, one of our Directors called the Commissioner personally to discuss the impact of his office taking such a hostile stance to call out an NGO that does not have the weight of state resources to defend itself in the same manner that his office was able to. He agreed that a better method of communication between actors working toward the same goal would be to simply have a conversation and offered WOMANTRA a space to talk about its collaborative work with the TTPS in a joint press conference. We are happy to accept this offer and hope that any future miscommunications between two or more agencies with shared mandates to protect women can be resolved through constructive dialogue and does not descend into tit-for-tat type public displays that benefit no one, except for detractors.
Our first responsibility is to our clients, which include victims of gender based violence and we continue to strive to do right by them. We also remain eager and open to working with state agencies, including the TTPS, to formally develop the frameworks that would facilitate the kind of information sharing and monitoring and evaluation for which we have advocated both publicly and in our previous meetings with the Commissioner.
Finally, we continue to hope that empathetic, transformational leadership can be normalised across all public spheres, where solutions to calls for justice get centred and prioritised over the content of these calls.