Tue | Sep 19, 2017

Jaevion Nelson | Needed: a paradigm shift in Gordon House

Published:Thursday | May 12, 2016 | 5:00 AM

There is way too much talk about changing the mindset of Jamaicans as it relates to sexual violence and abuse, especially those perpetrated against our children. Yes, more people need to speak out and take action in their communities and support law enforcers in investigations to bring perpetrators to justice. However, what is desperately needed at this time is a paradigm shift in Gordon House, among our parliamentarians and among civil servants.

We need is a (greater?) sense of urgency and responsibility among our parliamentarians to ensure that the laws and policies will protect people, to ensure that available services are responsive and sensitive to the needs and realities of those who are survivors as well as their families.

In my experience, I have found that the most common things you hear from survivors of rape and other forms of child sexual abuse is that parents and family did not believe and the support services were woefully inadequate. On top of all of this, (many of) those who go forward to report these incidents and pursue justice feel further victimised by 'the system' - because of the way lawyers, judges, police officers, doctors and others treated them and with the matter.

In 2013, there were 3,386 cases of child sexual abuse and 3,403 in 2014 reported to the Office of the Children's Registry (OCR), most of which were carnal abuse, rape and fondling. In 2014, most of the cases were from Kingston & St Andrew - 775; St Catherine - 404; St Ann - 373; St James - 357; and Manchester - 316.

While there is still a lot of under-reporting of these incidents and the police seem to get even fewer (it is said that only about 10 per cent of rape cases perpetrated against children are reported), a big part of the problem has been the response of the police and justice system. If you think about it, this is the aspect we don't talk about enough and do enough to address the inadequacies that exist where support, reporting and justice are concerned. Failure to adjust these grave challenges will continue to discourage people whether they are the victim, they know the victim or have information about an incident from going forward to report, assisting with an investigation or seeking support.

 

NOTHING HAPPENS

 

Earlier this week, Television Jamaica (TVJ) broadcast a two-part documentary on sexual abuse and violence against women and girls. One of the survivors remarked that the "court system is a mess [...] too much kids get raped repeatedly and nothing happens".

We have to do more to improve the available services, scale them up across the island and ensure that where there are gaps they become a priority. We also need to make the police and justice system more sensitive, responsive, efficient and effective and take steps to engender great trust/faith in 'the system'.

A study by OCR on child maltreatment in Jamaica in 2013 found that most people never report these incidents of child abuse despite experiencing or knowing a child who has been abused. In fact, only 11 per cent of adults have ever made a report. They found that "Institutional workers and adult Jamaicans who fail to report cases of child abuse explained that they could be encouraged do so if they were convinced that reporting would indeed make a difference. But outside of this, there is a fear of being victimised as there is a lack of trust in the system of reporting."

You hardly ever hear the government being honest about these things. We are all the fingers are pointing at the community, sitting waiting, hoping that we will remember that 'it takes a village to raise a child.' It's quite baffling that we have such difficulty recognising and accepting that the village is no more.

It is unfortunate that we seem so resigned to this idea that the village will resolve the government's ineptitude where child sexual abuse is concerned. The government cannot continue to and must not be allowed to abdicate its responsibility/obligations to children. It cannot. There should be zero tolerance to this kind of nonchalance.

We have to refocus some of our efforts and reallocate some of the limited resources available to improve the support systems, court system and police response, as well as the laws. The system is 'failing' too many survivors. We can't direct all our attention at saying 'don't rape'.

We have a duty to care for our children. Perpetrators must be brought to justice! That has not been happening as much as it should. Ensuring there is justice is a crucial part of addressing the rape culture in our country. It's not only about speaking out; justice must be sure.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human-rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.