The University of Guyana’s Faculty of Health Sciences has launched a programme to ensure that there is a professional, prompt, adequate and effective court process for victims of sexual violence with a high number of cases already reported for the year.
“Since the beginning of 2019 we already have 400 cases being reported,” said UNICEF Country Representative Sylvie Fouet at the launch of the programme Tuesday.
Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, Dr. Emanuel Cummings said, “it is the hope that there will be a significant improvement in how cases are dealt with in the judicial system.”
“Using evidence from sexual crimes to advise the judiciary, to improve in convictions and make Guyana a safe place,” he stated.
He added: “Evidence can make or break the outcome of a sexual offence case. It allows for the profiling against other suspects,” he said.
The programme, which is called the Forensic Psychology and Sexual Offences Special Training Series, is a partnership between the University, the United Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Judiciary. It was launched at the Pegasus Hotel, Kingston Georgetown on Tuesday.
The programme will be focused on how to deal professionally with women, children and persons with disabilities, and vulnerable and marginalized groups who engage the court system to seek justice against perpetrators.
Those to be trained include social workers, probation officers, Non-governmental Organisations, prosecutors, Police officials, Magistrates and Judges.
“We are looking forward to this programme and we can assure you that the knowledge base or the skills gained from this training will definitely be put into good use,” said Justice of Appeal and Chancellor (ag) Yonette Cummings-Edwards.
Guyana has the second highest rate of sexual violence in Latin America and the Caribbean; this is according to the United Nations.
The Chancellor (ag) said the impact of sexual offences in Guyana is not new, however, “research literature has shown that the impact of sexual abuse has far reaching emotional, psychological and physical effects on the victims.”
The lack of proper training to adequately deal with victims of sexual violence can do more harm and further result in secondary trauma to victims.
“The complexities of working with victims of sexual violence require specialized training and intervention of all involved in this process.
“Victims not only require support services but they also need to be treated with fairness and respect for their dignity and privacy,” the Chancellor said.
Since the establishment of the Sexual Offences Court in 2017, some amount of training was conducted. For 2019 and 2020 the services of the Sexual Offences Court will be taken to Essequibo and Berbice.
The programme, which has been in the making for over a year, will further specialize in intensive studies of forensic psychology, molecular biology and technology.
The specially designed eight module programme will teach the psychological and medical issues involved in sexual offence cases by pushing the understanding that there are both physical and psychological scars and that every victim reacts differently.
“We first have to understand the external environment of the abuser, understand the social and cultural norms and myths in relation to sexual having to spend 20 hours or so will be worth the while,” the Chancellor said
Vice Chancellor of the University of Guyana, Professor Ivelaw Griffith, said the goal of the programme is to establish sound engagements in evidence-based knowledge.
“The harsh reality is…. although we have areas of knowledge intervening appropriately in resolving issues, in solving problems, the special skills that are there in those domains need to be complimented by other skills,” he stated.
The Vice Chancellor said there is an obligation to use additional knowledge and additional skills to be able to solve the problems of sexual violence.
Some of the specific objectives of the programme are to provide support to the judiciary and allied services and provide professional and evidence-based best practices to the areas of concern of the sexual offences court in the country.
The programme is being supported by two main partners, Caribbean Network of Psychological Associations and UNICEF.
The UNICEF Country Representative said: “It is always a challenging way interacting with children who have been abused and in particular survivors of sexual offences.”
The Country Representative said UNICEF will be looking forward to continued focus on these issues “for every child partnership and every child healing.”
The University’s undergraduate program in Psychology graduated the first batch of 23 persons last year and currently has a number of 27 intakes for this year. The Masters in Clinical Psychology will be launched in May 2019.
The United Nations in 2002 reported that 1/3 of women worldwide had been a victim of sexual violence. (Isanella Patoir)