Sun | Apr 23, 2017

Ackees worth more than a child's dignity

Published:Monday | August 10, 2015 | 8:49 AMMichael Abrahams

Apparently, there is now a going rate for romantic interludes with a child. Last week, a local newspaper reported that a 30-year-old married man was fined J$150,000 after being caught by police kissing a 13-year-old girl in an abandoned building. The accused had pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent assault, and it was revealed that he had met with the teenager on previous occasions and had been planning a date for them to have sex. 

In administering the fine, the judge remarked, “The only thing working in his favour is that she had consented to it and she was not coerced."

This case is disturbing on many levels. For an adult to be hooking up with a child in an abandoned building for intimate contact is absolutely unacceptable. Although no penetration was reported to have taken place, the nature of the contact was inappropriate, and the planning of a date to consummate their warped relationship criminal.

What I find to be even more upsetting, and perplexing, were the actions of the presiding judge. The fine, in my opinion, is absurd. For an infraction of that magnitude, the punishment appears to be rather incongruous. Just over US$1,000 is a paltry sum for a grown man to pay for grooming a child, engaging in intimacy with her, and planning to plunge his erect penis into her pubescent vagina. 

Yes, I am aware that the language being utilised is graphic and unsettling, but in addressing serious issues such as this, there is no place for euphemisms or beating around the bush. This man was clearly orchestrating statutory rape.

Which brings me to the discomforting utterance by the judge, claiming that the underage child, had “consented to it”. How can a 13-year-old legally consent to intimacy with a big 'horse-staring', 'grey back' married man? The age of consent in Jamaica is 16 years of age. The fact that the judge is a woman contributes even more to my already-rattled state, as one would think that, having been a girl herself, she would have been able to empathise with the victim. Instead, her actions demonstrated a detachment from the reality of the deleterious effects of child sexual molestation.

 

Also worrisome is the fact that the man’s name was not mentioned in the report. We have no idea who this person is. If he applies for a job and an Internet search is performed, this infraction will not be seen. He could relocate beside or across the street from a school, have children as his neighbours or offer his services as a youth counsellor or swimming instructor, and unsuspecting youngsters could find themselves at the receiving end of unwanted sexual advances. His anonymity has been preserved, giving him the freedom to mix with children without arousing suspicion, while he stalks his next victim. 

Based on the evidence available concerning paedophiles, it is not only likely that this girl is not the first that he has preyed on, but very likely that he will attempt to have sex with others. 

Even when arrested and incarcerated, and therapy and counselling are administered, the recidivism rate among child predators is appreciable.

The sexual abuse of a child is a very serious offence and this slap on the wrist is ludicrous. 

But this travesty of justice is magnified even further when one considers the fact that this same judge, a few years ago, sentenced a man who stole $350 worth of ackees from the grounds of King’s House to three months in prison. In handing down the sentence, the judge chided the accused, saying, “I know how the governor general feels." The man’s name was also made public.

Stealing is, in fact, a crime, and one should be punished for it if found guilty. But I can assure you that the occupants of King’s House were not harmed by the pilfering of a few ackees. 

The sexual abuse of a child, on the other hand, can result in much harm, including sexually transmitted infections and their sequelae (including chronic pelvic pain, infertility and death), cervical cancer, pregnancy and its complications, and psychological issues including anxiety, chronic depression and suicidal ideation.

The ruling in this case strongly suggests that our justice system, or at least the judge in question, does not ‘get it’ and that its priorities are skewed, placing little value on the health and dignity of our children. This is unacceptable. 

I strongly urge those who read this and are as outraged as I am to write to our chief justice (Mrs Justice Zaila McCalla, Supreme Court, Public Building, East King Street, Kingston, Jamaica) and vociferously express your concerns. Merely complaining and grumbling will not make a difference. 

Our voices must be heard by those in positions of authority and influence and our positions made clear. We owe it to our children.

Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback tocolumns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.