Michael Abrahams | Our unhealthy attitude towards statutory rape
The recent case of a 64-year-old Moravian pastor charged with having sex with a minor is cause for great concern. According to police reports, about 9 p.m. on Wednesday, December 28, 2016, a motorised police patrol in the deep rural community of Austin in Myersville, south-east St Elizabeth, came upon a parked car in a secluded area.
It was reported that the pastor was found in a “compromising position” with a 15-year-old girl. They were taken to the Black River Police Station, where the pastor was charged with having sex with a girl under the age of 16 years.
After the story broke, I was interviewed on the radio programme ‘Beyond The Headlines’ about sexual abuse in the church, and made it clear that sex with minors is not confined to the church, but is a systemic problem throughout our society.
Following the broadcast, I received a message from a Christian friend of mine in my Facebook inbox. She confided to me that she is a member of the accused pastor’s church, and that stories of his inappropriate behavior had been circulating for some time, from even before he was transferred to his present location, and that she strongly believes that church hierarchy knew about it.
As a matter of fact, investigators say that they are following further leads as a result of allegations that the pastor may have been involved in similar behaviour previously, and the head of the Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse, (CISOCA), Superintendent Enid Ross-Stewart, confirmed this.
However, in an interview with The Gleaner’s Damion Mitchell, president of the Moravian Church in Jamaica, The Reverend Dr Paul Gardner, dismissed those allegations, as well as those which claim that improper conduct prompted his transfer from his previous to his present post. He claimed to have no knowledge of any previous impropriety on the part of the accused, adding that the transfer of pastors is a routine activity in the denomination.
Mitchell had also visited the church the Sunday after the pastor’s arrest, and wrote a story titled ‘Weeping worshippers - Tearful service after pastor jailed over sex crime allegations’. What struck me, while reading the article, was that the torrents of tears were apparently shed mainly over the pastor’s plight.
Comments such as "The devil thinks that he has won, that he has broken the Church, but we are going to prove him wrong” and "Satan cast his net on one of our shepherds and he has been snatched” appear to place the blame squarely on Lucifer’s head, with no talk of the man of the cloth taking personal responsibility for his actions.
I spoke with Mitchell about his experience at the church and he confirmed what I had suspected; that not a single parishioner there expressed concern to him about the minor’s state of mind or her safety. To add insult to injury, principal of the all-girls Hampton School in St Elizabeth, Heather Murray, not only presented herself at the pastor’s bail hearing, but also attempted to block the media from recording images of him as he left the St Elizabeth Parish Court.
In her defence, she claimed to be a very close friend of the accused’s wife, and attended the hearing to provide “moral support”. But the principal, in my opinion, exercised poor judgment, and her actions raise questions regarding her motives. A true friend does not desert you in your time of need, and is a blessing.
Interestingly, however, the friend that she claimed to be supporting was not present at the hearing. Also, to deliberately try to block the media from photographing the accused, amounted to interference, and her actions came across as being protective of someone who may have abused a child, a dastardly and egregious offence. She actually looked toward the cameras and said “Take the principal of Hampton instead”, with a smile on her face.
As the head of an all-girls school, these actions are inappropriate and show a paucity of emotional intelligence and lack of empathy not only toward the minor involved in the case, but toward girls in the institution that she heads who may themselves have been victims of sexual assault.
When a grown man has sex with an underage girl, it is statutory rape. It is not just 'a little sex'. The balance of power between an experienced man in a position of moral authority and an impoverished female minor swings heavily in the direction of the man. Sex in the presence of this type of power dynamic amounts to abuse. It is rape. Not only do these young women experience adverse psychological sequelae, but often physical ones such as pregnancy and its possible complications (including complications from abortions), the contraction of sexually transmitted infections which can lead to infertility, chronic pain, or even death, as well as increasing the risk of developing cervical cancer. The accused is, of course, innocent until proven guilty, but the views being expressed by many regarding this case are disturbing. Our attitudes toward 'big, dutty, horse staring, grey back' men having sex with little girls have to be adjusted. We must protect the vulnerable among us. We must stop failing them.