Rape And The System That Failed Anna
Anna as she was affectionately called, was the fourth of her mother’s seven children and she grew up in a poverty stricken suburban district just outside of Bridgetown where she enjoyed playing outside and was the average bubbly, full of energy child. No one would have foreseen the life altering events that would see her life spiral out of control and the then ten-year-old never thought that danger was lurking in the neighbourhood that she roamed with friends enjoying the outdoors. Back home from school one evening, Anna went outside for some play time as was the norm every evening after a quick look at home work. She did not go too far from home when a teenage boy from the neighbourhood raped her. “I was so afraid and I was hurting”, she said, “I did not know what to do and I ran home and told my mother”. Like any mum, Jane, who also knew the boy was outraged and she called the police.
The investigation revealed that Anna was raped but besides the conversations with the police, Anna was not offered any counselling or any medical treatment. The young man who was about 17 years old at the time was charged and appeared in court but today some ten years later, there has been no trial. As a result of Anna’s unresolved traumatic experience she felt shame and she became angry and would often strike out and curse any one and that became her coping strategy. A typical response that can be expected when a child is sexually abused and her trauma left untreated. Anna also became disinterested in school and while teachers complained, neither Anna nor Jane had the ‘courage’ to speak out and so they lived in denial of the incident. This continued when Anna entered secondary school where she had no friends, did not trust any one and hated everything. She would leave the classroom or not attend class and would loiter outside until a teacher would force her to go to class. She would often be very rude to the teachers and even curse them at times and she was soon labelled a ‘problem child’.
Anna’s perceived ‘misbehaviour’ was seen by teachers as irrational and they were responding, not knowing that this behaviour was based on the child’s views of a painful world where her experiences were much older than her twelve years. Unfortunately, they did not ask questions and no one gave explanations and Anna’s world was in turmoil. One evening going home from school a boy hit Anna and she asked him to say sorry and when he refused and found it funny, Anna kicked him and unfortunately that kicked landed in his groin area and his mother called the police for Anna. Anna was taken before the court and although the details of her trauma were revealed, Anna was sentenced to the Girls Industrial School for three years. For kicking a boy who first hurt her, the system’s response to the varying and complex paths that brought her to that moment was to leave the trauma untreated and to lock her up. How was her healing supposed to begin?
Anna entered the Girls Industrial School afraid, unheard and most of all angry and the environment there did little to assist her. Instead, more opportunities were missed by the people and the system that was supposed to reform her and shift her path for the better. Her education ended at the age of 13 when she entered that institution as there was nothing to look forward to except the occasional visits allowed by her mother. Daily, Anna was sent to do needlework of which she had no interest and while she was supposed to do cooking classes, she never got to cook. There were no developmental activities for her but she was allowed outside to play with a ball.
According to Anna, there was nothing but frustration because there was nothing to do and the girls would fight, play rough and behave bad.“I constantly got in trouble for cursing the workers”, she said.“I started cursing after the rape and I would curse everyone when I got angry”, she explained.
“I did not fight a lot, but I did when I had to defend myself or when I was being put in the cell, I would fight to stay out”, she added.
Anna explained that the punishment she received for cursing or giving trouble was usually to be sent in ‘the cell’.“The cell was a dark room, sometimes it was a plain room with no bed or chair.I was sent to the cell without a bed and without clothes, I was naked. It was horrible, I hated it and I would have to sit or lay on the cold cement floor.There were very high windows and sometimes I would hold on to the bars and pull myself up the wall to have a peep out”, she detailed.
On one of the occasions, Anna was being dragged to the cell, she was fighting with the workers to stay out as her only crime was being rude or as she would say, ‘standing up for herself’.
“They were dragging me and I spit on one of the workers and when they got me in the cell, she hit me and started to beat me and she bit me and left marks on my skin.”
When Anna’s mother visited and saw the bite marks, she questioned Anna about them, but Anna could not answer because a worker stood over her to make sure that she did not tell her mother anything.Like any mother would, Jane insisted on answers about how Anna got the bite marks and she was ordered to leave the premises and when she objected, she was put off the premises.
Furious and hurt Jane went to the press but Anna felt the wrath of authorities after a story about her mother’s concerns were made public.
She was involved in a fight where she was defending herself and she was the only one chosen to be sent before the Magistrate and with the obvious ‘awful’ report written about her, Anna was sentenced to one month in the adult prison at the age of 15.
While there was no counselling for Anna, she was also sent to the Psychiatric hospital on occasions where she would be medicated to calm her down and this medication seemed to have affected her health.
A few months after Anna returned from the main prison, she was released ‘early’ to go home and this was shocking to her mother as it was only a few months since she was sent to prison for being ‘so terrible’ and about six months before she was due to be released.
The reason for her release soon became clear after Anna showed signs of ‘reactions’ from the drugs they administered to her and she had to seek medical attention as her eyes would roll back in her head and she was unable to see for at least twenty to thirty minutes.She also trembled a lot and often had headaches and she was very unstable.
Today, three years after her release, Anna’s health issues have settled down and she indicates the desire to start classes that can help her build a better future as she aspires to become a chef.
We received the following comments form someone who observed Anna while she was at the Girls’ Industrial School.“Anna is a very loving child who would only strike out if anyone interfered with her.She also liked to protect other girls and she was very kind.All she needed was help to deal with the trauma that was very painful for her to bear.”
We at Barbados Children Directory would like to assist in Anna’s development and we are seeking persons who would volunteer to teach her English and Mathematics and someone to also mentor her. We would also like to get her an internship in a restaurant where she can observe the work of a chef to see if this is what she really likes and to inspire her on her journey.