Tue | Nov 12, 2019

Rodjé Malcolm | Time for gender justice

Published:Friday | February 17, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) is alarmed by the recent spate of sexual violence and child abuse. Over the past four years, roughly 2,500 rapes have been recorded. To combat this, we must embark on a truly multisectoral approach to both eradicating the root causes of violence, and strengthening the capacity of institutions to respond to its occurrence. Piecemeal measures that do not address both these factors will continue to yield only short-lived success.

In Jamaica, police only resolve roughly half of reported rapes. In 2016, the 'clear-up' rate for rape was 52 per cent - meaning that only 52 per cent of rape reports were actually solved or otherwise 'closed'. In 2015, the rate was 55 per cent. In 2014, it was 53 per cent. And in 2013, it was 47 per cent. Convictions are similarly low. While police investigators worked tirelessly to solve these crimes, the fact remains that nearly half went unsolved. This must change.

When focused on children, the outlook is similarly despairing. From 2014-2016, the single largest offence reported to the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA) was sexual intercourse with a person under 16. Over the period, there were 1,420 such reported cases, which CISOCA indicates were primarily perpetrated by older men. Even more disturbing is that this offence suffered from the lowest 'cleared-up' rate of all CISOCA's offences. This, too, must change.


Public confidence needed


For years, we have narrowly focused our strategy on simply detaining perpetrators, and boosting reporting, without the corresponding focus on equipping the police with the capacity to actually resolve cases - thus, undercutting gains from operations and limiting their prospects for future success. The public must have confidence in the State's real capacity to investigate and prosecute, not just detain. To achieve this, the Government must seriously invest in the police's investigative capacity.

We endorse the recent training of 500 police officers in domestic violence. This is an important step. But in the context of a 10,000-member police force, this intervention must be significantly scaled up if it is to have any meaningful impact. As Prime Minister Andrew Holness remarked, civil society groups can be key partners to achieve this. For example, JFJ presently delivers human rights training (including on domestic violence and vulnerable groups) for police recruits at the Police Academy. Over the past two years, we trained 735 police recruits and 193 serving officers. If the government is serious about forging effective partnerships, then we stand ready to contribute.

We also note that one NGO, Woman Inc, has borne the responsibility of operating Jamaica's sole women's crisis shelter for years. Considering this, the Government's decision to establish two additional shelters is welcome. While this will provide relief in the short term, we insist that setting a medium-term goal of one shelter per parish, to be achieved through partnership with NGOs and other funding partners, is both feasible and necessary.


Expedite legislative and policy changes


We welcome the resumption of the joint select committee of Parliament reviewing the Sexual Offences Act, the Domestic Violence Act, the Child Care and Protection Act, and the Offences Against The Person Act, with a view to strengthening protections, which had begun in 2014, but was regrettably stalled. The renewed goal must be to remove barriers to protection, mainstream a gender-sensitive human rights approach throughout the laws, and increase early intervention and support services. We cannot squander this opportunity.

Moreover, the announced merger of the Child Development Agency (CDA) and the Office of the Children's Registry (OCR) can boost these efforts by streamlining child-protection services, and reducing the delay between the receipt of reports and the commencement of interventions.

We are all well aware of harrowing stories of protracted delays in responding to urgent situations, including the most recent account of a woman who reported the sexual abuse of a six-year-old girl by an adult male relative, but had not received a sufficient response some six months later. While this is not always the case, the CDA and OCR would benefit from a less-fragmented, more bureaucratically efficient system. Both the ongoing legislative review and the merger can help secure this.

Strong government leadership can accelerate the cultural change that is necessary to uproot sexual violence and child abuse. The Government must be unafraid to directly tackle gender stereotypes and power dynamics - not as a mere abstract social issue, but as gender justice.

- Rodje Malcolm is advocacy manager at Jamaicans for Justice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and admin@jamaicansforjustice.org.