Don’t joke about rape

We’re all entitled to our opinions, and freedom of expression is a right that many would wish to cherish. But, society usually has limits to public free expression, not least to prevent the powerful from abusing those without power, or the strong abusing the weak, or to resist wanton discrimination.

Most societies set high standards of behaviour for its rulers, especially politicians. However, we know that politicians are human and, therefore, prone to mistakes. Many of these mistakes are tolerated to some degree, but we hope to see certain mistakes, rarely, if at all.

Our societies have a tendency towards violent behaviour. They also have a tendency towards such behaviour against women. Jamaica has become a country where violent behaviour is commonplace, and violence against women happens far too often.

We try to frame laws to protect those who are victims of violent abuse, male or female. Rape is one of those forms of abuse. It’s not a matter about which to joke.

Why, then would a politician, a senior male politician, the leader of government business in one of our legislative assemblies, think that he could make a (little) joke about rape? What part of the image of rape would make someone want to laugh, or smile, or titter, or say “That’s alright”?

I’m not going to repeat his words, which he did not deny, but then retracted after initial resistance, as they are no longer part of parliamentary official records. But, he asked if someone couldn’t make a little joke anymore.

Yes, a person can make jokes, but not about certain things. A list of such things may not be agreed, but would include for most people matters like the mothers of those present, or about those who have died.

To joke about rape is, at the very least, insensitive. But, it’s really disrespectful and insulting to actual victims, and to all of us, because anyone can become a victim. I’m not getting into any discussion about whether males can be raped. Anyone can be physically abused in a sexual manner.

What makes the incident in Jamaica’s Senate, yesterday, especially disturbing is that the words were uttered by our principal voice to foreign governments–our minister of foreign affairs. It is not hard to imagine that the next briefing that is prepared on him will have reference to his remarks. Imagine his meeting any of the female foreign diplomats currently officiating in Jamaica. It’s a discomforting image.

Many will look to his prime minister, our prime minister, to at least reprimand him publicly. But, many will not be surprised if this doesn’t happen. The fact that our prime minister is female, and has publicly, nationally and internationally, spoken up against rape and violence against women and children, would suggest her hackles would have risen after hearing of the foreign minister’s remarks. But, will we get just another brush off, and ho-hum response?

We sing proudly our national anthem. Our foreign minister is always there representing those words for us in front of the rest of the world. Let me just remind the minister of some key lines, that he should hold dear to his heart:

To our leaders, Great Defender,/ Grant true wisdom from above

Teach us true respect for all

Strengthen us the weak to cherish

Jamaica, land we love/ Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica, land we love.

Our love of country is conditioned by many things. One of those is the image we have of ourselves. Another is the image we have of those around us.

When we are ready to tarnish and sully the image of those around us, we are just ready to sully and tarnish the image of ourselves, in our own eyes and in the eyes of the rest of the world. We deserve no respect, because we do not respect ourselves.

Why should our country have to keep washing away stains from its image? Why should those stains be made by those who are supposed to represent us to the world?