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Culture Clash: On Cyber Crime in The Bahamas

Published in Culture Clash — a biweekly column in The Tribune — on April 19, 2017

Everyone wants to be entertained.

We pay for cable television, go to political rallies and engage in Facebook banter on hot topics for days.

Sometimes our jokes are on other people, but nothing is as disturbing as the pleasure many get from recording, watching and sharing explicit content without consent of the people involved.

Too many people prefer to make assumptions, stating them as facts, to looking critically at common behaviours and the related social ills.

There is no shortage of topics we would prefer to leave undiscussed. We are not interested in feeling uncomfortable, challenging norms or risking existing perceptions of ourselves to have necessary conversations.

No one wants to talk about sexual violence. It is not pleasant. Rape is not a safe table topic, but women are not safe from predators either. Why not? Who is to blame? How have we contributed to rape culture, ensuring that victims are blamed for violence enacted against them and made to feel shame and guilt?

Every few months, a new story makes the rounds on social media. Videos are quickly shared, exposing traumatic, humiliating moments for the entertainment of the general public. We have become voyeurs, cultivating an insatiable desire for violent content. When people are excited by images of car accidents, footage of people taking their last breaths, children being abused and women being raped, it should be an alarm. This growing obsession is a definite indicator of desensitisation to acts of violence and loss of humanity. Unfortunately, it seems this has been normalised, and few are willing to challenge it.

For the past few days, video of a rape has been circulating on social media. Not only has evidence of a crime been widely shared, but people have requested the video. They are asking contacts to share a video of a woman being raped for their entertainment and to enable them to join the troubling conversation, complete with graphic details.

Why was this video recorded? Who recorded it? Why has it been shared with anyone other than the police? Why do people want to watch it? What does it mean when people are excited by the thought of such a video?

In conversations about violence against women, the issue of relationship to the survivor is almost always raised. When men and boys fail to see the problem with various forms of sexual violence, we quickly point them in the direction of their family trees. What if this happened to your mother, sister, or daughter? What if this woman was related to you in any way? Would she be a human then? Would she deserve to be protected then? Would it still be her fault?

The same distance exists between viewers and individuals in the videos. Something keeps us from seeing people we do not know as human beings. The same deficiency renders us incapable of empathy. Entirely separate from this is the sense of moral superiority that comes with viewing such content. People like to see and position themselves as better than others. It is a pleasure to point out all the things we would have done differently to ensure a different outcome.

What did she drink? Who did she get it from? Did she ever let it out of her sight? Why did she drink it? Didn’t she notice it tasted different? Did she know these people? Couldn’t she fight back?

I wouldn’t have drunk anything. I don’t know anyone who would do that to me. I’m a better judge of character. No matter how drunk I am, I can fight back. I’m smarter. Stronger. Better.

These questions are easy to ask. These actions are easy to premeditate. Judgments are easy to make. In all of this, we centre ourselves and forget about the people who are impacted by the content shared without their consent and the unfiltered public commentary. We give no thought to the impact of our self-aggrandisement on victims of cyber crime. We rarely even think about our perception of rape.

It is easy to think of rape in narrow terms – dark alley, stranger, screams. In reality, rape is not limited to specific circumstances. It can happen day or night, inside or outside, with or without an audience. For the perpetrator, it is an exercise of power and control. When consent is not given, it is rape. Consent must be voluntary, explicit and continuous, and can only be given in sobriety and adulthood. It is never implied and is always necessary. When lack of consent or the end of consent is ignored, the act is a violation. In this most recent video, the young woman was incapable of giving consent. She was sexually violated and that has been multiplied by the cyber crime of recording and sharing the video.

Certain assumptions can be made about people who send and receive videos like the one being discussed. Sending such a video suggests the sender has reason to believe the recipient is like-minded. It implies there is nothing wrong with sharing this kind of material, and no consequences are expected. If you are in receipt of the video, it may be time to ask yourself a few questions. Who sent it to you? What is your relationship to the sender? Why would anyone feel comfortable sharing the video with you? How do you respond to people sharing this kind of content with you? Have you shared the video, or content like it? Are you a cyber criminal?

If we are not prepared to consider the impact of our actions and speech on others, to refrain from criminal activity or to correct family and friends when they commit harmful acts, are we ready for the revolution we say we want to see?

If we cannot govern ourselves or see the humanity in one another, we are not prepared for fight for democracy. Are we ready to study, debate, and decision-making on the road to May 10, 2017? Until we respect and protect the least among us, we cannot rise together for effective leadership and civic participation in our country.

We must think beyond ourselves and our personal relationships, working to understand and promote human rights for all, if we are to build a better Bahamas for Bahamians.

A Case for the Spoiled Ballot, Part II

There is a false assumption that voters must choose from the options on the ballot, whether they like them or not.

Most Bahamian voters are not able to participate in the nomination process for candidates or party leaders. A small group of people get together and carry out a closed process, then offer their selections to us. At this point, we are expected to choose between all of the candidates in our constituencies, having no comparative data, little opportunity to engage them in dialogue on pressing national issues, no indication of their capabilities in comparison with those of their opponents, and no means of recall. Votes for candidates ratified by political parties are then proxies for the election of the nation’s Prime Minister. My vote for the Member of Parliament of my choice is taken as endorsement of that candidate’s party leader. I am forced, along with all Bahamian voters, to vote for two people with one X (unless I vote for an independent candidate which strips me of my right to vote for the PM of my choice).

None of the major political parties in The Bahamas have my interest, much less my trust.

The PLP won us over in 2012 with a catchy slogan that made us feel good about ourselves, and kept us from thinking about them. They told us they believed in us, but they were never specific. They didn’t tell us they believed in our silence. Our shortsightedness. Our reluctance to rise against them. We didn’t ask them to go deeper, because we liked what we heard. We were excited about a political party that believed in us. The party gave us that Obama change-you-can-believe-in feel-good affect. The novelty wore off, and we found ourselves discounted, disrespected, and disaffected. It didn’t believe in us. It tried to scapegoat us to stay in the church’s good graces. It asked us a million-dollar question, ignored our answer, and made us foot the bill. That’s not what believing in us looks like. It flushed thousands of jobs down the toilet, left civil society to bring relief to the islands and families most affected by two devastating hurricanes, imposed a tax that severely impacts small businesses and the 12.8% of the population that lives below the poverty line. The party contributed to the failure of the gender equality bills, and refused to answer question after question. VAT money, carnival, tainted water supply, and Baha Mar are still on our minds, but deflection and distraction are always on the PLP menu. I cannot vote for the PLP.

The FNM was given ideal conditions to position itself to win the next general election. It’s unfortunate that they did not care. The performance of the Public Accounts Committee was abysmal. Their record of compliance with the Public Disclosure Act continues to be at ankle-height. The Bahamas spent the past few months watching the FNM completely fall apart, waiting for the announcement of its final bonfire. The party continues to try to convince us that its members are together, strong, and prepared for the job, but without providing any evidence. They haven’t even been able to keep their website up. The FNM fully expects to sit back, relax, and win by default, riding on the premise that we have no other choice. How could I give them my one X?

The DNA has always been a non-option for me. I simply cannot take the party seriously. It started as an inflated temper tantrum by someone who appointed himself leader. He then went on to select a group of the most random, unprepared candidates possible for the 2012 general election. Many hoped the DNA would improve and gain more support by the 2017 election, but the party has given me nothing to go on. McCartney has made a number of statements, but none of them included plans or solutions. I know people who complain, blame, and rebuke far better than McCartney, so even that does not win him any facetious titles like “expert detractor”. Worse, he believes a woman owes her husband sex, in perpetuity, from the time they take marriage vows. The DNA has been in the best possible position for the past five years — able to watch, make substantial public contributions, and build community while expanding its own base. The party has not done this, and even if it had and was comprised of the most stellar candidates, I would never vote for the DNA. I am a woman, and I intend to retain full control of my body, whether or not I take marriage vows. Anyone who can stand behind McCartney stands against me. With that line in the sand, I cannot give the DNA my X.

The number of independent candidates in the next election is encouraging. It is great to see people thinking beyond party. It is unfortunate that so many believe the only way to create change is to become a part of the system, but that is a discussion for another time and space. That aside, I believe we will see more of this in elections to come, and it could lead us to a coalition government. I have not yet met or received any word from an independent candidate in my constituency and, honestly, at this stage, I have no interest in hearing from one. It is a bit too late to look for my support in three short months. That is not a long enough time to demonstrate commitment to the community, beyond political aspirations.

Given our current electoral system, a vote for an independent would deprive me of the opportunity to weigh in on the leadership of the country. In the current political climate, it also has a high chance of splitting the opposition vote, and creating another wide margin between the winning party and the official opposition. That is a sacrifice I would consider in more depth if I had a candidate I could fully support, but having none, this is my position. While I support those who will, I will not be voting for an independent candidate in 2017.

None of the political parties in The Bahamas have made a connection with me. I do not read the statements, view the actions, or hear the rhetoric and feel any sense of conviction or shared vision with any of them. More than that, I struggle to see the difference between them. We have consistently seen one party break off from another, not on the basis of beliefs or guiding principles, but differences in personality and power struggles. This has led us to this place — a number of political parties, one not different from any other.

One would be hard-pressed to order political parties in The Bahamas from least to most conservative. It would be an exercise in futility to make any qualitative distinctions between political parties. In this moment, we have the same party, a few times over, with different names, faces, and colors. They largely operate in the same ways, (fail to) stand for the same things, refuse to change the systems they criticized when those systems begin to serve them, and treat the Bahamian people as afterthoughts. They are committed to serving themselves, keeping each other’s secrets (even across party lines), and retaining power. If there is no difference between parties, what is there to convince me to vote for one over the other(s)?

The politicians are lackluster, yes, but they are not the only problem. We have a failing system. It is this system that allows parties to receive campaign funding from anyone they choose, and without disclosing. It is this system that allows the closed process for party candidates and leaders to continue. This system allows for the drawing of new boundaries, in favor of the current administration.

Are we ready to be introduced to potential candidates and their platforms in town hall meetings? Are we ready for mandatory public debates? Are we ready for an independent electoral commission? Are we ready to cast separate votes for MP and PM?

Are we ready to reject the system that has led us to where we now find ourselves, uninspired by the options put before us? Are we ready to reject the idea that we must support one of the existing options? Are we ready to refuse to vote for anyone, by default, who has done nothing to earn it? Are we ready to kickstart a national conversation about building a system that will serve us? Are we ready to be counted as concerned citizens who will not settle (rather than discounted as apathetic if we do not participate)? Are we ready to march, together, to the polls to reject the status quo and make our demands?

We can do all of the above in two steps.

  1. Register to vote.
  2. Spoil the ballot.

Join the movement. #OutDaBox242 is on Facebook and Twitter.

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#TooSexyToVote: Female Voter Suppression in The Bahamas

Published at LadyClever.com on January 27, 2017

On the heels of the U.S. Presidential Election, The Bahamas is preparing for its general election expected to be held n May 2017. The Bahamas has successfully maintained a voter turnout of over 90% for general elections— one of the highest in the world. A November 2016 report, however, showed that approximately 57,000 people had registered to vote compared to 134,000 at the same point in 2011, ahead of the 2012 general election. Since then, there has been a significant increase in politicians and civic society, through social media posts, radio talk shows, and daily newspapers, urging Bahamians to register to vote. Given this, it was shocking to learn that Bahamian women were being turned away by Parliamentary Registration Department staff, denied the right to register to vote, by reason of dress.

No Cleavage Allowed

On December 30, 2016, The Tribune’s cover story featured a woman who had been turned away from voter registration three times. Deputy Chief Reporter Krishna Virgil asked Parliamentary Commission Sherlyn Hall about voter registration policy, as the Parliamentary Elections Act does not mention a dress code.

Mr. Hall said, “Because you have to take photographs, so if someone comes with half their breasts out and cleavage showing, this isn’t permitted.”

In the same interview, he shared that 75,000 people had registered to vote — less than 50% of registration numbers at the same point in 2011.

While this story was a surprise to some, others had stories of their own to share. Women took to social media to talk about what they were wearing when they were turned away from registering to vote. They ranged from tank tops to sleeveless dresses. Generally, it seemed any woman with their shoulders, upper arms, or breasts visible was denied their right to register.

#TooSexyToVote

Ava Turnquest, Chief Reporter at The Tribune, sprung into action on the day the story was printed. Within hours of her Facebook post and the creation of a secret group, dozens of Bahamian women were in conversation about the suppression of women’s voter rights.While some researched laws and policies regarding dress code, others brainstormed national actions. #TooSexyToVote to vote was born, and the Sexy Voter Registration event was set for January 4, 2017.

Bahamian women were invited to a lunchtime power hour at the Parliamentary Registration Department to register to vote in the attire of their choice. The decision was made not to leave until everyone successfully registered to vote, no matter what they were wearing. The participants included a woman in a crochet top and short, a women in jeggings and a crop top, a women in a fitted dress exposing her cleavage, and a woman in a men’s three-piece suit. All participants were able to register without a problem, though the woman in the crop top was asked to remove some of her earrings. She refused, the photographer consulted a supervisor, and it was decided that her picture could be taken and her registration process completed.

The Fight Continues

The next day, more reports were made on social media of Bahamian women being turned away from voter registration station. It became clear that most of the issues were occurring at two locations. The #TooSexyToVote crew then began plans to respond. While two female Parliament members and the Minister of National Security — who has responsibility for the Parliamentary Registration Department — referenced the issue and Hall’s comments, there were no reports of directives being issued for the Department’s staff to cease its discriminatory practices and register all eligible Bahamians to vote. Hollaback! Bahamas then published an open letter to the Parliamentary Commission, calling on him to do his job in accordance with the Parliamentary Elections Act, or vacate the post.

“It is an affront to Bahamian suffragettes and all Bahamian women that in 2017 — the year we will celebrate 55 years since the first time Bahamian women voted — eligible voters are being turned away because of personal opinions. Hollaback! Bahamas denounces the refusal to view Bahamian women as full citizens, the policing of women’s bodies, and the subsequent perpetuation of violence against women.”

A directive has since been issued, and Hollaback! Bahamas continues to collect #TooSexyToVote stories through its online report form. All data collected through the form will be reported to the media, holding all parties involved accountable.

Next Steps

#TooSexyToVote organizers are closely monitoring social media reports on experiences in registering to vote. It has expanded its scope to include other barriers to registration, like stations not being open during published times. The group is set to launch an interactive flowchart providing Bahamian citizens with comprehensive information on voter registration requirements and procedures to ensure they are prepared when they visit a station. There are also plans to train voter advocates to visit registration stations and assist people who encounter issues with the staff. #TooSexyToVote is committed to encouraging people to register to vote, especially women, who comprise more than 50% of voters.

On Emotional Labor as Women’s Work

We carry heavy burdens that, often, do not belong to us. We seek answers for other people’s questions. Find solutions to other people’s problems. Forage for salves to heal wounds not our own. Pray for miracles to reach other homes. Cook to warm foreign souls. Speak life into other vessels. Give our pennies to outstretched hands. Bow our heads in thanksgiving for someone else’s blessing. Lift the names of others in adoration. Chase helium-powered dreams, jumping for the strings, only to hand them to someone else. Then stare at our own shadows, wondering why nothing else is there.

We are spent. We have been spent. We spent ourselves.

We carried, sought, found, foraged, prayed, cooked, spoke, gave, bowed, lifted and chased. We moved so swiftly that our own wind extinguished our fire — the energy we thought was indefatigable. And here we find ourselves, writhing on the cold floors of our mother’s bathrooms, curling into balls, empty of everything but the air we need to cry out for redemption. Saving. Mercy. Grace. Help. To be carried.

Who will fight for us? Who will save us? Who will say our names to the higher powers that all but forsake us in our hour of need? Who will boil the leaves of bushes we do not know by name, but by sight, and hold the cup of their bitter waters to our lips that we may drink with both thirst for wellness and disdain for the taste of our misfortune?

Who will stand in the gap, filling the space we leave pregnant with emptiness while our physical feminine beings are out of service? Who will render the service we no longer can because we have walked too many miles, sang too many hymns, ladled too many bowls of soup, listened to too many tales, doled too many apologies, swept too many tiled floors clean, built too many pedestals, tightened too many ties, patted too many shoulders, smiled at too many inappropriate comments, swallowed too many fitting retorts, caught too many fragile, falling egos, wailed over too many bodies, and covered too many secrets with the dirt from beneath our fingernails — the only compensation for this endless work — like palls over caskets?

Who will fill the spaces we leave when we finally learn that we are enough? That we have done enough. That the world we’ve been fighting for isn’t enough to hold us. That gravity is no match for our spirits that tire of being anchored, and will cut themselves free of this landscape, taking us with them to do what we were born to do. To soar.

Who?

Who will stay here, tell stories of our magic, binding patches of our histories and works into quilts of mythology, wrapped around the babes who hope to one day wield wands of “women’s work” to greater compensation than we have ever imagined? Who will intercede for them, that they will not repeat patterned pasts, but will stand in the power of all that runs through them by virtue of their blood being the same as ours? How will they know that the work of their feet, their hands, their tongue is worth more than thank you, more than love, more than endless praise, and that true appreciation in the capitalist world comes in the form of paper they can take to the bank?

What must we do today to protect their dignity, secure them financially, elevate them socially, empower them politically, strengthen them mentally, and lighten them emotionally that the labor they undertake not only benefits their communities — and them by proxy — but is in balance with their direct compensation?

For faith without works is dead, and work without pay must die. If not before us, then with us. But how?

We are responsible for the continuation of emotional and unpaid labor, started long before us; hence, we are responsible for bringing about its demise. If our feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit, our labor will be paid or it will be left undone.

We will not be left undone.

We will not be left.

We will not.

With our spirits, we will rise, and the rest will learn to fend for themselves. Our responsibility is us, and those like us who we usher into this world, changed by our refusal to let it be as we met it. This has been our duty, it is our power, and it will be our victory.