THERE were no vigils, no public uproar, in fact, the story hardly was noticed when it broke.
On Monday evening, over 36 hours after she left home, the body of 25-year-old Gabriella Rafael was found half-naked in the Queen’s Park Savannah. It would take a further three days for her to be identified.
You, like myself, might be thinking how can someone not notice she was gone? The truth is a hard one, Gabriella, though well-known in her community, led an extremely troubled life.According to her father, Gabriella would regularly pick up and disappear for two to three days.
People who knew her said she lived a “difficult life.” She grew up in poverty, lost her mother as a child and was known to have been taken “advantage of” since the age of 18. Gabriella suffered from both mental illness and chronic physical illnesses, such as asthma and seizures.
Of the five children she had given birth to, only her youngest lived with her, her father and another relative. Her four other children live with their respective paternal families.
Her life, marked by hardship, ended in the cruellest way possible. It is suspected she was sexually assaulted, then strangled.
The media and others have drawn a similarity to the February 2016 murder of Japanese national, Asami Nagakiya who was also found strangled and assaulted in the QPS. While their deaths may have been similar, the response has not.
When Nagakiya was found, people were upset.
In 2021, the disappearance of Andrea Bharatt commanded a national wide manhunt and upon the grizzly discovery of her body the people raged. Petitions were signed, Bills were bought into parliament, protests were held, she was even titled Trinidad’s Slain Daughter.
It was a hard and terrifying time for every woman in T&T.
But here we are two years later, and the silence is telling.
Gabriella wasn’t exceptional or considered a role model. No one spoke of her having a bright future. There are no pictures of her in graduation gowns or winning awards. There are no national tears or moments of prayer. Her life was marked by suffering and tragedy, caught in the cycle of poverty, failed relationships and mental illness.
No one noticed she was missing, probably because no one really noticed when she was there either.
Gabriella was a woman without a village. It’s easy to blame her father for not getting her help when she was younger or chastise him for letting her run wild, but let’s face facts, he, himself probably needs support.
She is one of the thousands in T&T who exist in a world of hardship that get left behind, that is often ignored and are criticised for their poor life choices without the casters of judgement understanding their circumstances.
These are the people we need to fight for. The ones who don’t represent the “best of T&T,” the ones we walk past and roll our eyes at and the ones we are quick to judge or avoid completely.
It would be easy for me to blame the government and all their failures in education, health and social support, but at some point, in time we need to take a long hard look at ourselves.
How many times have we seen a friend, a family member, a neighbour struggling and thought “not my business?” I am guilty of it; we all are one way or another.
We have let our sense of community die. And I get it, life is hard enough without getting involved in someone else’s problems and sometimes there isn’t much you can do. But sometimes there are things we can.
A simple kind word, a listening ear, a meal, a bag of groceries, a call to the relevant authorities if it needs to be done.
By turning a blind eye, we are creating more and more invisible people like Gabrielle. A woman, who as “harden” as she was described, probably could have been so much more, had she had the support she needed, had she had the village she needed.
Gabriella Rafael was invisible from the time she entered the world, to the time she left. She is one of many invisible, community-less people walking the streets of T&T. These are the people we need to fight for, and in these difficult times we need to be a village more than ever.
Note: Also, if you know of someone who is “being taken advantage of” do something about it. Contact the relevant authorities. Silence and inaction can cause the greatest harm to those in need.