Opinion: Courageous

POSTED: 10/21/11 11:55 AM

The dust has finally settled on the rape charges against businessman Bobby Velasquez, but the outcome of the appeals court hearing was considered by some observers as surprising. Still, for the victim of this unsavory affair there is at least some form of closure, now that her great-uncle turned out to be not so great after all – even in the eyes of a respectable panel of three impartial judges in the Common Court of Justice.
Velasquez will go in cassation at the Supreme Court – and therefore he will not go to jail for the time being. But the guilty verdict comes as a severe blow to his reputation as a law-abiding citizen. The victim and her family will rightly think that this serves him right.
The trial has been a roller coaster for both the plaintiff and the defendant. Velasquez has always proclaimed his innocence with a level of conviction that now, after the court ruling, feels more like misplaced arrogance.
During the appeal the lawyers for the defense played dirty by bad mouthing the victim – who was a sixteen year old girl at the time of the rape – in every possible way. That did not have any effect on the outcome of the case, because the judges stuck neatly to the facts of the case and left unsubstantiated allegations made by the defense out of the equation.
It takes courage for a rape victim to file a complaint, especially when the rapist is a family member who is also seen as a pillar of the community. But the girl in this case took the step and she stood by her story all the way through the ordeal. During the trial the girl was not only present in court, she was also prepared to testify.
The prosecution asked the court to put the victim on the stand but the judge did not allow this, saying that the statements ,made by the victim that were in the file were sufficient. It was therefore obviously disappointing that the Court in First Instance acquitted Velasquez in July, not because there was no legal evidence, but because there was no convincing evidence.
The prosecution, the girl and her family are convinced that, had the victim been allowed to tell her story in court, the convincing element in the evidence would have been there as well. In that case, the lower court would also have convicted a by now 66-year-old man who saw fit to assault a second cousin who was just 16 at the time.
If this case proves anything at all, it proves that the justice system in St. Maarten works properly. The law treats everybody equal, and being an “important” businessman or even a law-abiding citizen whose only prior brush with the law dates back to something like 1967 (a 15 guilder fine for disruptive behavior) does not give a free pass to taking liberties with young girls.
The sad thing is obviously that with the verdict the case is not over yet for the victim, because Velasquez will take his sentence to the Supreme Court in The Hague. It could take as much as two years before the highest court in the Kingdom publishes its ruling. By then, the victim will be a young woman nearing her twentieth birthday. She should however not feel like a victim anymore. She is a courageous young girl who stood up for her rights. In that sense, she is an example for others who may find themselves one day in a similar situation.

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