Jamaica’s shameful record of sexual abuse

By Leo Gilling

NO means NO!

Of the countries globally, and with the 2010 national report of rapes, Jamaica ranks 22nd with 24 rape incidents per 100,000 citizens. The JCF recorded approximately 6600 rape incidents between 2011 and 2020, with about 3250 cleared up. (The clear-up rate refers to all cases disposed of from the court’s active records (guilt, innocence, dismissed, or thrown out) divided by the total cases presented for that period). In that period, 2012 recorded the highest number of 948 incidents of rape.

This article was written against the background of a video recently released by Queen Ifrica, who announced that her biological father sexually assaulted her. That is called incest. Eve for Life (EFL) has reported that incest is island-wide, but the hot spots are in the parishes, especially Westmoreland, St. Ann, and St. Thomas. The statistics include children reported by the Jamaica Observer, where 36 of 46 complainants in the Trelawny Circuit Court are child sexual offenses. It should be understood that these numbers are only the ones the police know about; many situations are unreported.

The United Nations Women – Caribbean defined rape as when a man has sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent, knowing she does not consent or is reckless about whether she consents. Each country has its own continuum of sexual violence; the rape statistics above would be completely different in Jamaica if measured against the definition of rape in the United States.

   For example, rape, defined by the U.S. Department of Justice, is “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration of a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”  The new definition has not restricted the victim to women or penis penetrations; but rather projecting body parts, objects, etc. The rape of a child is a whole different matter and is treated as though the perpetrators committed an act of treason.

According to the SOA of 2009, Part 2, Subsection 3: defined rape as “A man commits the offense of rape if he has sexual intercourse with a woman a) without the woman’s consent and b) knowing that the woman does not consent to sexual intercourse or recklessly not caring whether the woman consents or not.” This definition focused only on a man having nonconsensual sex with a woman. 

Annan Boodram, a Caribbean writer, noted that it is a significant challenge for Jamaica and the Caribbean to access the exact statistics of sexual violence. That is because patriarchal beliefs, power, and control continue to create a social environment in which sexual violence, and rape, are pervasive and normalized. He said “culture” is perpetuated with misogynistic language, objectification of bodies, and glamorization of violence.

As boys, you see and hear things. We were taught life lessons that we later found utterly wrong.  Social learning is the way of life in a country without jobs or positive activities. So boys learned socially.

These learnings began with simple words and thoughts. Words and thoughts convinced young boys that it’s okay to commit injustice against young girls and women, young girls, probably aged nine to twelve, on the cusp of puberty. We were accustomed to learning to be silent, that everything was alright. Our adult male models were in control. 

The narrative and the learning were, in essence, social teachers-: “even if it seems wrong, it’s not. De woman dem want it. When dem fight back, dem just a pretend that they don’t want it.” These were actual words in discussions with older men who came to best after a wrongful encounter against a woman. The culture was “sworn to secrecy.” In that learning, we were expected to protect the information, preserve the act, and include it in our own lives as we grew up. Women, on the other hand, are scared of reporting sexual violence for fear of not being heard or further punished.

It’s time now, though, to release some of those words. They weren’t grumblings; they were real.: “Dah one deh ready fi a buss,” implying that a young lady starting puberty is ready for adult sex. The other is “she ready fi di cutting table.” As if women are pieces of meat and man is the butchers, she is ready for adult sex.

Many of the social teachers have now died; some are older and not active, and some are still very active. However, they have taught many other boys that we see in our communities committing rape and sexual assault against women.

These abuses must stop. We need to train the “resilient child.” Early childhood is open for growth. Resilient child development is essential; it helps them overcome obstacles, recover from setbacks, and find joy in life. It comes from encouraging intentional emotional and social activities that teach them to speak up and speak out, be aware of self and environment, show empathy, be honest and sincere.

It requires the Ministry of Education to have complete responsibility for early childhood learning. Normal children worldwide are engaged in formal learning from a much earlier age than the Jamaican education system is willing to admit. The infant school concept and number of students at that age should be the opposite of what is currently in practice. Basic schools now outnumber infant schools, approximately 2700 to 300. The early childhood education system needs at least another 2700 professionally paid teachers and building conducive to learning at this level.

Finally, men have the role of assisting in the effort to change this cultural error. More of our male leaders are needed to advance the fight against sexual violence against girls and women and set an example for our youth to adopt the right attitudes toward others. 

These suggestions should be a primary focus of our Ministry of Education and male leaders. The benefits may take time, but the difference will show in our society in years to come.

Leo writes for various publications in Florida and Jamaica.