Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Editorial | The year of truth-telling

Published:Saturday | January 14, 2017 | 1:00 AM

For a culture that prizes secrecy, Jamaica is shaping up to be a different place in 2017 because of the growing nationwide clamour for openness, transparency and accountability.

Rocked by recent allegations of a pastor of the Moravian Church having sex with a 15-year-old girl in his car, the Church and other long-established institutions are being forced to drill deep and confront the difficult issue of sexual abuse and sexual violence.

Based on the mounting pile of charges and countercharges, it is obvious that the drilling has to be deep enough to get beyond the apologists and into the bedrock that enables abusive behaviour by persons who are placed in positions of trust. It is happening now - there are intense feelings of shock, outrage and confusion, with the result that layers of deceit and denial are being peeled away as the nation comes face to face with the scourge of sexual abuse.

It's a welcome step, and it is hoped that the indignation is not reserved for church leaders. Although it is difficult to get solid statistical evidence, it is believed that dozens of little girls and boys have been abused, tortured, used and left broken and mentally battered. Rarely is anyone held criminally liable for the wrong done to these children. Possible prison term for the abuser and shame of the victim are not the only reasons the voices of the abused go unheard; often adult relatives enable the abusers by pretending that it is not happening in exchange for economic gain. And the abusers understand too well that they can buy their way out of justice.

 

CODE OF SILENCE

 

The climate of secrecy and the code of silence that exist in families, communities and corporations discourage candid conversations that are important in promoting transparency and trust. Hopefully, we are now in a new era of truth-telling, where roiling matters such as sexual abuse, incest and harassment will be talked about openly in a kind of national conversation.

Yes, we understand that it takes courage to speak out because the perpetrators are often relatives, family friends, or powerful, well-to-do authority figures - including professionals who come in contact with children. One thing is for certain: Abusers look for opportunities. Parents and guardians need to have a discussion with their charges about safety. They need to educate themselves in order to understand what constitutes unacceptable behaviour. And it is extremely important that adults believe children when they raise alarms about something odd in any adult-child relationship. By ignoring the reports, others are put at risk and the abuser is given a pass to continue his or her reprehensible behaviour.

We encourage state institutions such as the Child Development Agency and various non-government organisations that support legislative and judicial actions to end sexual abuse and violence to work assiduously to prepare parents and guardians to better protect the children in their care and easily recognise suspicious behaviour on the part of adults.

Sexual abuse of a child will put tremendous strain on relationships, but the answer is not to remain silent. In the final analysis, parents and guardians will be held accountable for not reporting instances of sexual abuse.

Whether Rupert Clarke is guilty will be for the court to decide based on the evidence before it. However, for the Church in general, do not assume that sexual abuse will not take place in your congregation, and understand that part of your ministry involves seeking justice for victims of such abuse.