Press ambivalent on sexploitation
Karen A. Lloyd, Guest Columnist
My recent article, 'My vagina is not public property', published in The Sunday Gleaner of August 3, 2014, brought the issue of street and sexual harassment to the nation's consciousness in a way I could not have anticipated but for which I am grateful.
The rousing response was a timely reminder of the tremendous work that needs to be done and the critical role of the media in ensuring that sexual violence is treated with the gravity it deserves. It will take dialogue and a lot of (un)learning and relearning to get us (back?) to a Jamaica where we respect and value each other. That conversation has started.
I am heartened by the response I received, especially from women, expressing gratitude for raising awareness about issues that plague our lives relentlessly. I've also had many conversations with men, close friends and strangers alike, who have sought clarification on what constitutes harassment. One gentleman who emailed me said he simply did not see or understand the way he (and other men) engaged with women on the street as harassment. That's just the way "man look woman", he remarked.
It occurred to me that people, males especially, do not realise that they are socialised to objectify us, and they certainly aren't educated about harassment. It doesn't help that our culture often explicitly and implicitly salutes the very behaviours that lead to sexual violence. On top of that, the onus is on women and girls to prevent harassment and other forms of sexual abuse.
Street harassment, as I alluded to in my article, does not operate in a vacuum and is, therefore, the result of a society that does not actively protect its girls, women and other vulnerable citizens. It is not surprising, then, that sexual abuse, including rape and workplace harassment, is commonplace within our borders.
One in three females experiences harassment and sexual violence. Keep in mind, also, that rape and other forms of sexual violence are known to be under-reported crimes. Our police estimate that about 30 per cent of these crimes are unreported.
A number of issues contribute to the under-reporting of these crimes, the least of which isn't the fact that women (and men) are ashamed to report these crimes, or the lack of seriousness with which they are dealt.
ROLE OF MEDIA
As gatekeepers of information, the media have fallen short. Like with other issues, there tends to be a burst of interest when a particularly gruesome case of sexual abuse occurs. We are fêted with stories of horror, hardly, if ever, learning about the victim. The consequences of sexual violence on women and girls, their families and the society are not given much attention.
More so, the stories are often framed in a way that perpetuate the very ideas that make sexual abuse permissible. Before you know it, the issue goes back into the oblivion from whence it came. That is, until another girl is brutally molested and we're enraged to start another futile protest.
Remember that family of four females, including an eight-year-old girl, which were raped in Montego Bay in 2013? What about the deafening silence with which the media treat the issue of underage girls who are forced into (sexual) relationships with older men? Or the way we pretend underage girls are impregnating themselves and not grown men who enjoy the privilege of an ineffective legal system?
What is the rationale for the media's ambivalence? If the media are hushed about issues as grave as sexual harassment and abuse, it is inevitable the society will follow suit. Perhaps this is the function of the gatekeeping.
Sexual abuse should be a serious concern and we must sustain our efforts in reducing this social handicap that continues to wreak havoc on a significant portion of the population and, hence, retards the development of the nation.
The media cannot sit idly by until another horrid story of sexual violence surfaces to instigate action and discourse on such a grave issue. Media managers must now recognise that it is incumbent on them to empower their staff, through a variety of interventions, to be knowledgeable about sexual harassment and violence; address it in the workplace; and raise awareness in the public sphere.