It’s fitting, again, that the challenge letter for today allows me to focus on the topic of child abuse. Yesterday morning, I attended the second in a series of four forums on this topic (in Kingston, at the Knutsford Court Hotel); each forum has a different theme, and yesterday’s was sexual violence. The forums are organized by UNICEF Jamaica (@UNICEFJamaica ) and Do Good Jamaica (@), and draw on the resources of media through the RJR Group (TVJ and JNN, the latter carried the forum live), and support organizations like Eve for Life (@EveforLife). They also draw on the immense energies of those people interested in the subject and trying to deal with eradicating it, as well as those who have suffered and are willing to share their experiences. Yesterday, the forum also had the voice and ears of the new Minister of Stare for Education and Youth (Floyd Green, MP), who spoke briefly, listened intently, and stayed afterwards to talk with everyone for a long time.
Dealing with sexual violence is one of society’s hardest problems, in many senses. It’s a shocking truth that many of the abuses are committed by people with whom the victims have intimate relations, whether family or ‘friends’. In other words, people are most vulnerable to the very people in whom they often place trust.
The violations are often laid at the feet of victims, not perpetrators. Yesterday’s moderator, Terri-Karelle Reid, reminded us of a case last year when an adult married man aged 30 was caught kissing a 13 year-old girl; he admitted the offence. Justice Pusey, never one to shy away from controversy, fined the man J$150,000 (about US$1400), and noted that the penalties would have been more, but for the fact that the girl ‘consented’. Simply put, a minor cannot consent legally to sexual activity. So, we have the Catch-22 horror that the justice system sought to break its own logic in order to protect an adult and expose a child to that adult’s actions. The audience was reminded that, a couple of years earlier, the same Justice had sentenced another 30 year-old man to 3 months in jail for stealing ackees (valued at J$350) from King’s House–the Governor General’s residence. The glaring disparity of treatment and the confused set of values in those two legal decisions are apparent to most people. They are amongst the sort of things that undermine public trust in systems set up to protect victims, but seem Hell-bent on persecuting them.
Children involved as victims are often given little attention or support by adults, who are often the absent protectors on many fronts. It’s often an area where we see some of the worst forms of betrayal of trust. Parents and relatives are often perpetrators, directly and as accomplices or facilitators. Institutions, run by adults–including police, lawyers, and courts can often be shocking in their absence and the degree of lack of care they show to child victims. We have too many stories of mothers, aunts, or grandmothers, who know of the abuses and turn a blind eye. That leads us along the awkward road of trying to understand how and why adult women seem unwilling and unable to protect younger women. I’m not going further down that path, today, but it’s a problem that needs serious attention.
Victims are often outcast, and spend much of their lives trying to recover some small sense of self-esteem. Many negatives swirl around the topic.
We often find it hard to talk about abuse in a way that is really open, even in private. It takes enormous courage to declare oneself as abused. It takes even more courage to do that in front of a public audience. But, yesterday, we heard from victims–four young women–who shared their stories and showed that they were on the road to recovering a part of what was taken from them. As victims, they were now able to stand tall as mentors to others who had been abused–links in a new chain, trying to break an old chain. The young ladies are now under the protection of ‘Eve for Life‘, whose focus is to support abused young girls.
Some people have been critical of the forums for being yet another ‘talking shop’ and does not address the need to strengthen institutions that have to deal with the protection of children. While I can understand the call for more resources, much of the action that needs to happen to correct wrongs in Jamaica (and elsewhere) is rooted in getting people to understand that their passivity and inaction have been major reasons why these problems have persisted. The only resource needed for that is personal responsibility.
I’m not going to try to explain the sociology or psychology of why our society has such problems with tackling certain personal issues. But, that resistance, when mixed with other traits of our society, have created a terrible toxic mix.
We like to apportion blame. We like to give freely our views on other people’s behaviour. But, we are terrible at acting in a responsible way to stop and report the bad things we see, hear, or know. Our problems with tackling crime, in general, have been known to fail on our persistent belief that informing on people is wrong. We are full of statements about the things we would do to those who are abusers, yet the simple act of reporting defies many of us. We’ve been reminded that only about 1-in-10 abuse cases get reported, even when people know about them. Just this week, our police commissioner urged people to “be nosey” and help the police tackle crime. But, here we are at another Catch-22 junction: our police force has for too long been thought, or shown, to be dishonest and ready to fabricate evidence, and act in criminal ways: just this morning, I read of policemen arrested on suspicion of murder.
A shocking reality in our society (and many others) is that the victims of abuse, especially sexual, are females; the main perpetrators are males. The clear disregard for women is perhaps at its most obvious in the way that they are seen as objects to be abused. That tends to push aside the task of dealing with male victims of abuse, who are often assumed to be victims of males. But, as some stated yesterday, adult women are known to be abusive to young men.
That fact, though, tends to push aside the task of dealing with male victims of abuse, who may not be as many as women, but exist in significant numbers. Abused men are often assumed to be victims of males, and that plays into our other issues about homosexuality. But, as some stated yesterday, adult women are known to be abusive to young men, even as organized groups searching for victims.
Maybe the audience was made up of those who are already sensitive to the issues of abuse, but that did not stop many feeling anger, pain, distress, disgust, sympathy, shame and more as tales of abuse were retold, or social justifications to sexual abuse and the problems of being a girl, were explored through a spoken word presentation, by Makeda Solomon. Those sentiments mean much when they lead to action to deal with abuse. It’s a necessary step. We can’t force others to act, but if each person act things would change very fast.