|The right to know|
Guardian News Editor
Published: Jul 02, 2012
Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade and his team of senior officers found themselves embroiled in controversy last week over their silence after receiving multiple rape reports.
It took a Nassau Guardian reporter pressing police before Assistant Commissioner Anthony Ferguson finally confirmed they were investigating a spike in rapes.
Chatter about these matters was loud on social media even before police made their confirmation and finally issued a warning.
While an increasing number of people depend on social media for information, they are often not sure whether to believe what they read until reports are confirmed by police and published in local dailies.
The initial silence of police on these most serious of matters has eroded public confidence in them.
But what has been even more egregious than that silence is the explanation provided, first by Ferguson and then by Commissioner Ellison Greenslade, over why police kept quiet, failing to warn women that they should move about with a heightened degree of caution.
Greenslade displayed both arrogance and a lack of concern for thousands of women in our communities when he responded to this issue last Wednesday.
“We understand the business that we do and we have to be allowed to do our work without interference,” he said.
“I can’t have everyone telling us what we should and should not do.
“You have to understand that on the other side of this discussion are innocent victims and their families whose identities must be protected and whose location must be protected.”
But Greenslade was merely worsening the black eye the police force had already received.
His explanation proved more damaging that his initial failure to warn women about the increased reports of rape.
No one — in or outside the police department — has yet been able to explain how a generic warning on rape would identify victims.
Assistant Commissioner of Police Hulan Hanna attempted to provide a justification when asked to do so by The Nassau Guardian.
“There is not a rape crisis in The Bahamas,” Hanna said.
“...The commissioner made it quite clear that we are in the business of protecting our people, victims as well as innocent people in the community. If there is a need for us to give a general warning, we have done that many times in the force in the past and we will continue to do that. We have any number of ways of doing that.
“Going forward if it is determined that we need to be more aggressive in a particular way of doing certain things, we will do that but we’re satisfied given what the commissioner said, we’re satisfied that under these circumstances the commissioner’s directives were followed and officers did what they were supposed to do.”
That police would expect the public to swallow such a feeble and groundless explanation is stunning to say the least.
It appears Greenslade and the police department are more concerned about image than public safety.
One is left to wonder whether failing to provide generic rape warnings and reports is less an act to protect victims and more an effort to suppress the enormity of the crime problem in the country.
The commissioner ought to have displayed better judgment in the handling of this matter. After failing to warn women and the general public about these matters, he might have started to scrub away the stain on the police force by first apologizing then announcing a change in policy on how police report on these matters.
And police ought to report on these matters, making certain to avoid identifying any specific location or victim.
Reporting on crimes is their duty, even sensitive crimes like rapes.
As noted by The Nassau Guardian last week, police do have a responsibility to protect the identities of victims of sexual assault. But they also have a responsibility to prevent other sexual assaults from happening by warning the public of disturbing trends when they begin.
As police and government officials sought to quiet the controversy, they faced outrage in local dailies, on social media sites and from women writing directly to the Royal Bahamas Police Force to express their disappointment with police over the matter.
“It is unconscionable that such critical information was being withheld from the public. We deserve to know when our well being is at increased risk,” one woman wrote to the police force.
“Give us the opportunity to be aware of the dangers around us... I take this as a personal affront to all women in The Bahamas, particularly those of New Providence, that violent, serial sex crimes against women do not rise to the level of public importance on the part of the PR division of the Force. It is an enduring reminder of how we view women in our society, and the offenses carried out against them.”
Athena Damianos, a letter writer, wrote, “I am appalled that police kept the public in the dark about the serial rape situation.
“The excuse that this was done to protect the victims doesn’t hold water because victims of sexual abuse are not identified by police or the media.
“Rather than protect victims, the decision to keep the public ignorant may in fact have contributed to an increase in the number of victims.”
She noted that the day the press broke the story, police issued a wanted bulletin and by the next day, two men were arrested for questioning in connection with the incidents.
“Wouldn’t it have been smarter to do this in the first place?” she wondered.
A person identified only as “a rape victim” described Greenslade’s explanation as “ludicrous”.
“As a rape victim myself, I understand the need for privacy after such a violent crime,” the writer said. “It is possible to give pertinent information so Bahamians can take measures without revealing names or compromising the investigation.”
The writer said she is saddened that seven years after her rape, rapes continue to soar.
To be clear, Commissioner Greenslade and his team had the full support of National Security Minister Dr. Bernard Nottage who said last Thursday they made the right call.
Nottage hit back at a statement made earlier in the week by Free National Movement Deputy Leader Loretta Butler-Turner.
Butler-Turner said the Christie administration failed to speak out clearly and vigorously on the issue of rape, inclusive of advisories to Bahamian women.
“As rape affects women and their families. . . this silence from the government is deeply disturbing,” she added.
But Nottage said, “They don’t understand how the police should handle matters like this.
“I think the police handled the matter very admirably. It is not a political issue; it is nothing for a politician or the minister to be speaking about.
“What we are trying to do is to keep The Bahamas safe and we have to take advice from them (the police) as to how we ought to go about doing that.
“And in their judgment, they had some very good leads; they did not wish to tip anybody off as to their lead. And as you can see, over the past few days they have arrested quite a number of persons, and they have very good evidence, and I am satisfied that the way they are handling the matter is the proper way.”
It is ridiculous to suggest that a politician ought not speak on such matters or be critical of the police or the government on this issue.
In the halls of Parliament, Nottage was the most forceful voice last fall on how police handled the Marco Archer matter. He was highly critical of how the police dealt with the case of the missing 11-year-old boy, who turned up dead.
Nottage had every right to speak out about that matter, just as any politician has a right to express criticisms relative to rapes.
Last week Monday, Ferguson said police had reports of numerous rapes that occurred in New Providence over the last few weeks.
The most recent incident up to that point involved a woman who was sexually assaulted in a suburb of western New Providence around 5 a.m. Monday.
Ferguson said four of the alleged victims, who live in eastern New Providence, reported sexual assaults over the past few weeks. Another four alleged rapes occurred in western New Providence in recent months, according to Ferguson.
He later reported that 51 rapes were reported between January 1 and June 28, 2012. This compares to 56 reported during the same period last year.
Police said a total of 107 rapes were reported in 2011, compared to 78 in 2010 — an increase of 37 percent.