Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Editorial | A tambourine of fairness

Published:Sunday | March 19, 2017 | 3:00 AM

We can't comment on the merits of the criminal case the police have laid against Latoya Nugent, one of the founders of the feminist advocacy group that calls itself the Tambourine Army. We, however, deem to be bunkum their a priori claim of bias in any attempt to hold her to account for a perceived breach of the law.

Taken to its logical conclusion, the Tambourine Army's argument is that they have a monopoly on morality and outrage that gives them a right of action superseding the rights of other Jamaicans.

The Tambourine Army is an organisation of recent vintage. It has been vocal in recent weeks, since the emergence of sexual abuse allegations against three Moravian pastors, in calling for the protection of girls from sexual predators and other forms of abuse.

That is a noble cause for advocacy in a patriarchal society where, despite their leadership in education and advances in other areas, women and children are often the subject of exploitation, physical and emotional, by men. The question is how to rebalance this gender relationship.

According to the police, one of the routes chosen by Ms Nugent is to call out on social-media platforms persons she accuses of sexual abuse of young girls, including men who have never been investigated or charged for crimes. From the perspective of the police, therefore, Ms Nugent is engaging in a kind vigilantism or cyber-lynching in which her victims don't have a fair hearing and, in today's globally connected world, will never be able to fully clear their names, if proved innocent.

The difficulty of removing information from the Internet and clearing one's name in the aftermath of online attacks is not dissimilar to the circumstance in which victims of revenge porn or cyber-bullying find themselves. A few, such as Therese Ho, against West Indian cricketer Lendl Simmons, who electronically disseminated pictures of their sexual relationship, have sued and won. Many others, like Italian Tiziana Cantone, take their lives. While victims of these online/social-media targeting are primarily women, men and boys also suffer.

But the solution to deviant behaviour, or any form of crime, by men or women, can't be vigilante action or lynching, whether in the physical or cyber-world. Such a response is to acquiesce to the breakdown of civilised order.

That is why many countries, including Jamaica, have developed laws to deal with crimes committed in this new, expanding area of cyberspace. In our case, at Section 9 (1) of the Cybercrimes Act, it is an offence to distribute, via a computer or similar device, information that is threatening or menacing to anyone "or is reckless as to whether the sending of the data causes annoyance, inconvenience, distress or anxiety to that person or any other person".

It is under that section of the law that Ms Nugent was charged, as was another woman last month for distributing information by social-media platforms claiming that her ex-boyfriend was wanted for rape. Such charges are not of themselves "chilling" statements to women who have suffered sexual abuse. Nor are they evidence, as claimed by the Tambourine Army in Ms Nugent's case, of the State silencing human-rights advocates.

At first blush, they suggest an attempt at enforcing the law in gender-neutral fashion. If the Tambourine Army has logical, credible and thoughtful information to the contrary, we are to ready to be convinced.