Yesterday’s Sunday Express exclusive report of a young woman’s rape ordeal at the hands of a man she identified as Joel Balcon, key suspect in the kidnap-murder of Andrea Bharatt, has shocked the nation.
The victim’s story has not only heightened the pervasive fear of sexual violence against women but has fuelled further outrage against the Police Service for its nonchalant and insensitive attitude towards victims of rape. Additionally, the report’s suggestion that Balcon was no lone wolf, but part of a criminal ring, raises sharp questions about the police’s handling of Balcon, who was beaten and died while in the custody of the Special Operations Response Team (SORT).
The victim’s harrowing account of her five-hour rape ordeal is gut-wrenching. One can only imagine what it would have taken for her to step forward and tell her story after recognising her attacker as the prime suspect in the Bharatt case. Going public with such a traumatic experience will be worth the effort if it brings her psychological release and triggers meaningful change within the TTPS.
In this case, change must start with accountability. Balcon is dead and gone but the policing system that deprived this victim of justice and ignored the wrong done against her demands a full-scale investigation of all the facts surrounding this case by the TTPS’ Professional Standards Bureau and the Police Complaints Authority.
This case also raises questions about the effectiveness of the new Gender Violence Unit (GVU) in establishing protocols for the handling of rape reports at every police station. The victim’s account of her experience in trying to file a report at the Arima Police Station is an indictment of the officer on duty and the system itself, both in terms of taking the report and ensuring that she was accompanied by an officer for the required medical examination at the hospital. At the very least, the heads of the Arima Police Station and the GVU should be required to account for these failures.
The other major dimension of the victim’s report is the indication from Balcon himself that he was part of a criminal operation involved in kidnapping, rape and human trafficking. Tragically, SORT investigators may have cost T&T the chance to crack that ring when he died in their custody from blows inflicted by blunt force.
Many persons terrorised by the spectre of rising crime celebrated Balcon’s death without recognising the damage that was done to the investigation of the Bharatt case and other related cases, and the lost opportunity for getting leads to organised crime operations in T&T. Far from the grand success painted by Commissioner Gary Griffith, the deaths of two suspects in police custody while the search for the victim was still active contravened core tenets of the investigation of kidnappings. Now, with the rape victim indicating that Balcon might have been part of a criminal ring, his killing may have closed off a possible avenue for infiltrating any such network.
Given the recent upsurge in reports of kidnapping attempts on women, this is a failure that T&T cannot afford.