“Women have the responsibility to ensure they are not abused.” – Mayor Raymond Tim Kee, 2016 Trinidad & Tobago
After a hectic two days of music and revelry in the streets of Port-of-Spain, Ash Wednesday 2016 was a sobering jolt back to reality for the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) as the Mayor’s words echoed throughout the country. It took me awhile to gather my thoughts before I could address the horrible death of Asami Nagakiya, a 30-year-old Japanese professional musician (pannist) and subsequently the rape culture that is perpetuated in the country of T&T. Ironically, as a result of my first time viewing and investing my energy into understanding the highs and lows of Carnival last year, I began researching the rape culture of the country and how Carnival adds to it or has developed as a result of it. Little did I know the answers I would be looking for would rear its ugly head in the wake of this very tragic situation. Asami, a young Japanese pannist who visited the country every year for Carnival was found murdered under some trees in the Queens Park Savannah on Ash Wednesday last year. She was still clad in her carnival costume she donned the day before. Amidst the shock and outrage I kept thinking of the fear she must have felt during those moments her life was being snuffed from her as her attacker strangled her small neck; her lithe body carelessly left on the ground, like another piece of trash from the previous day’s merriment. I remember walking past a few people passed out on the sidewalks- each of them alone- and wondered is this part of the culture too?
Perhaps people passed Asami a few times assuming she too was just passed out from too much alcohol. Perhaps she was thought to be asleep. Perhaps people just didn’t want to get involved. Perhaps we would never know what really happened that night. But what we do know is that she is dead.
And to add insult to what was an internationally embarrassing crime, the then Mayor of the nation’s capital Port-Of-Spain issues a statement about Asami’s death, implying that the vulgar behavior of women during the carnival is the cause of such tragedies. During a press conference on Wednesday February 10, 2016, Mayor Raymond Tim Kee stated: “You know before Carnival I did make a comment about vulgarity and lewdness. The woman has the responsibility to ensure that [she is] not abused.” Not only does this young woman’s friends and family have to deal with the loss of a loved one taken away in a country she loved too much, they also now have to hear she’s a vulgar slut who got what she deserved from the city’s Mayor. Due the the public outcry and pressure as a result of his statements, Tim Kee resigned. But what has really changed within the one year that has passed since the tragic incident occurred? Tim Kee, is the perfect example of the misogyny that plagues the country and continues to perpetuate the rape culture that we see today. As the outrage rippled through the country, with calls for his resignation via petitions and protests, male religious leaders of the country came out in support of Mayor Tim Kee. According to the Trinidad Newsday, Sat Maharaj, Secretary General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, shamelessly stated: “I agree with him (Tim Kee) that women’s vulgar and lewd behavior make them vulnerable to sexual crimes. Why should he apologize? He doesn’t need to apologize.” Pastor Cuffie, Pentecostal Pastor, added: “If there is one event which shows women are their own worst enemies, it’s Carnival. Carnival is all about the sordid, callous denigrating and exploitation of women by the dragging of their dignity, worth and value into the gutter. And the saddest part of this, is that the most ardent accomplice to this crime is the woman herself.”
These men tell me and women like Asami that we cannot go out there and enjoy ourselves without being mauled by men who are unable to control themselves. We cannot hit the streets and enjoy the music and have fun without being groped and strewn against the nearest truck by a man if he so wishes. During the season I saw many facebook rants by women who believed that their good time was being marred by aggressive men who believed they were entitled to their bodies while in a fete. I saw one male commenter suggest one of the women “wear more clothes” as a way to curb the men. It has become public knowledge that Asami’s body bore marks and bruises even about her waist which made me cringe because I remember the feeling of a man aggressively grabbing me about the waist during carnival to wine on me. Pushing them off is not an option. As far as I have been told, this is part of the culture. I was informed vehemently by some men that J’ouvert (another, less glamorous part of the carnival) had no boundaries. Men can grope, grab, touch women’s breasts, ass, vaginas without consequences and she should take it.
Even many of the Carnival songs address women who refuse to have fun in that way, calling them stush [believed to be above the rest] and attempting to shame them for not wanting to participate. Other songs urging women to take what “they get” which means however a man see fit to approach and handle them, they need to take it because “it’s Carnival.” From what it once was, the entire carnival experience has now grown to be vulgar, loose and downright deplorable under the guise of “fun.” Regardless of this fact however, a murdered woman cannot and should not be blamed for the actions of someone who chose to end her life for reasons we the public still does not know. As a woman, I could choose to walk the street naked and gyrate my waist while on my head all day every day, but that does not give anyone or any man authority over my body and this is what Tim Kee, these religious leaders and many men in this society fail to understand. During a discussion regarding Asmai’s death, I heard a man suggest she
possibly went to the savannah without her friends to have sex with someone. And this equates to her having a right to be murdered how? As another Carnival rolls around, in light of that situation leaders should not be attempting to tell women what they can or cannot wear or do or even who they can share their bodies with if they so choose. The conversation should be leaning towards teaching men, young and old that a female’s body is her own and should not be abused. I have yet to hear people in authority in T&T actively speak to the men about the way they treat women. Many women are faced with this rape culture every day and have no other choice but to live with it because women’s rights is not a prominent issue being addressed. I recall before carnival last year, a young high school student was placed on suicide watch after two male classmates forced her into a classroom and one raped her while the other watched. At that age, what gave these young men the impression that they had authority over her body to engage in such an act? The daily rape culture they see from the men in their society is what gives them that impression and dare I say, permission to engage in such acts.
One year later, with Carnival 2017 three weeks away, Asami’s murder is still open with no arrest made. Since the beginning of the year, gender based violence has been a hot topic in T&T with the number of women being killed rising almost daily. And as if right on cue, Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley last night boldly stated: “You called on the Prime Minister to do something about crime. I am not in your bedroom, I am not in your choice of men,” in response to yet another woman murdered by the hands of a man in HIS country. These are your leaders. These are the men making the laws that govern women’s bodies. These are the men who refuse to protect those in their country. Let that sink in!
Carnival has become open season on women! Asami’s assault and strangulation was no more important than the other violence against women in the country. It just added to the international spectacle of the injustice women face under the umbrella of culture. Although the Mayor has resigned from his post, people like him still has a long way to go in understanding women’s rights in T&T. No one has been charged with Asami’s murder yet and no one is expected to be charged as the world may have now forgotten about her. How long are we going to sit back and allow this rape culture to rule the country of Trinidad and Tobago?