Archdeacon James Palacious’ Defense of RBPF Irresponsible

Archdeacon James Palacious was irresponsible in his defense of the Royal Bahamas Police Force and its misogynistic advisory making potential victims responsible for sexual assault prevention. Contrary to his belief, the backlash the RBPF received has nothing to do with political correctness; the criticism is of the failure of law enforcement to protect the Bahamian people and the ease with which it is able to put that responsibility on one of the most vulnerable groups of people. Women and girls live with perpetual fear of rape, and are taught from young to avoid rape by making themselves smaller, quieter, and less visible. Rape culture thrives on the societal attitudes that sexual assault is the victim’s fault, and the bodies of women and girls are objects.

The RBPF is not to be excused. It needs to focus on developing and implementing effective crime prevention techniques rather than putting the responsibility on women and girls to protect themselves, especially when it is taught — explicitly and implicitly — from childhood.

Sexual violence is not motivated by sex or attraction, but by power, and it is the job of the RBPF to ensure that potential criminals do not have the opportunity to gain or exercise that kind of power by increasing its presence, controlling crowds, conducting safety audits, and working with other entities to improve lighting.

It is clear that Palacious is out of his depth and does not have an understanding of sexual violence and its root causes or the rape culture that pervades The Bahamas. To suggest that it is acceptable or normal for women and girls to be violated if they are dressed in particular ways is irresponsible and sends the message that men are incapable of controlling themselves and not to be held responsible for their own actions. It is not possible to say dressing in a particular way would prevent rape while saying rape is not the victim’s fault.

It is abhorrent that Palacious would compare women and girls to objects — referencing police warnings about hiding valuables — as this is the attitude that leads to sexual violence and that predators use and depend on others adopt. The RBPF must find ways to address sexual violence without making the worlds of women and girls smaller, restricting access to public space, visibility, and full participation in society. Palacious also spoke of the “consequences of dressing a certain way” as though sexual assault is just punishment for not dressing as recommended by law enforcement, religious leaders, and whomever else a patriarchal, misogynistic society decides is allowed to determine what is appropriate for women and girls.

Equality Bahamas is troubled by Palacious’ wholly inappropriate, derogatory mention of prostitutes. He said, “If you are dressed like a prostitute, people will treat you like a prostitute,” which suggests that sex workers are less than human and do not deserve to be treated with respect. Sex workers are people, and sex work is work, without or without approval from any religious body or leader. This comment has the potential to create a more dangerous environment for sex workers who already do not have legal protection or an abundance of allies, and this can be classified as hate speech.

Equality Bahamas rejects the non-apology issued by Palacious which expressed no regret and offered no correction to his original statement. He, instead, used the opportunity to reiterate his earlier comments, add “the need for men to restrain themselves and not grope females,” and highlight his “support of gender equality” and criminalization of marital rape. One cannot stand by a statement and apologize for it, and it is inappropriate to emphasize personal merit as a means of deflecting from the issue at hand. Palacious’ support on other issues is irrelevant, especially if he is not able to understand and convey that women are human beings deserving of all human rights, regardless of style of dress, work, or number of children.

As a religious leader with a degree of respect, we encourage Palacious to be more mindful of his influence and, if he wishes to continue to present himself as a supporter of women’s rights, dispense with the respectability politics he practices and preaches. We invite him to consult with women’s rights organizations — like Equality Bahamas — and advocates before making public statements that add to the already rampant victim-blaming and disappointing lack of engagement with men and boys by the Royal Bahamas Police Force and the church.

We call on the Anglican Diocese of The Bahamas & The Turks & Caicos Islands to recognize, name, and rebuke institutional misogyny rather than perpetuate rape culture by suggesting there is any validity to claims that mode of dress is connected to sexual assault. We support Petition to Anglican Diocese to Stand Against Rape Culture and look forward to the response from the Diocese on this issue.