Michael Abrahams | While the Tambourine shakes
The Tambourine Army describes itself as a “radical social-justice movement committed to uprooting the scourge of sexual violence and safeguarding the rights of women and girls”. Co-founder Latoya Nugent was arrested last week and charged with three counts of breaching the country’s Cybercrimes Act after naming alleged sexual predators in social media.
Today I feel compelled to make a public statement because of reports of an incident involving me that I consider to be erroneous. In one such report, The Guardian, a British newspaper, stated that Ms Nugent lost consciousness and experienced five seizures while in custody and that she was denied access to her personal doctor.
My experience was that on the evening of March 14, 2017, I was asked by a well-known civil-society advocate to see Latoya, who was being held at the Duhaney Park Police Station, after she had a seizure. The seizure had settled, and she was sleeping. I asked if her doctor could be called and was told that she has had a seizure disorder for some time, but has no personal physician. I have never seen her as a patient, but agreed to see her and soon arrived at the station.
I introduced myself to one of the officers on duty and explained the reason for my visit. He invited me to enter a hallway and meet him in an area that I assume was closer to where Ms Nugent was being held. He then approached me with a book in one hand, and a pen in the other and asked me to provide him with some form of identification to indicate that I am a medical practitioner. I had no identification declaring my profession. I was told that this would be necessary for me to be able to see Ms Nugent, and I understood.
I have expressed concern about corruption and slackness in the police force, and felt that it would have been hypocritical of me to protest because the officer did not give me a ‘bly’. During our interaction, the policeman was courteous, respectful and soft-spoken, and I have no reason to believe that I would been denied access to Latoya had I presented the relevant information.
Having dealt with that incident, and being a staunch human-rights advocate, I feel compelled to share my own views on the Tambourine Army and admit that I am conflicted. I do not agree with some of the tactics employed by the movement. The name ‘Tambourine Army’ arose after Ms Nugent hit a pastor who is an alleged predator in the head with a tambourine. That was an assault, and I have reservations about naming the movement after such an incident.
I also have reservations about the #SayTheir Names campaign that they initiated, in which victims are urged to publicly “name and shame” alleged perpetrators, as persons with axes to grind can use the opportunity to smear the names of innocent people, even before making formal reports to the relevant authorities.
Also, several persons voicing disagreement with the tactics being utilised by the organisation, including human-rights advocates sympathetic to their cause, have been publicly cursed and disrespected by Ms Nugent in social media, and I find this to be unacceptable.
My conflict arises because although I may disagree with some of their actions, I understand why this is happening, and I empathise with them. And even though I may empathise with them, I must also admit that I am a man, and that I have never been sexually violated. These two facts make it impossible for me to feel what female victims of sexual abuse experience. The pain can be excruciating and unrelenting and can scar an individual for life.
The women of the Tambourine Army see themselves as militant warriors who have decided that enough is enough and that it is time to rebel and start a revolution. Many people are hurting from the sequelae of child abuse, and when people hurt, are marginalised, and are denied justice, their pain will be manifested as anger.
There will come a breaking point when the rules of the society that has failed them will be ignored and they will blaze their own trail. Their actions will offend and hurt some, and there will be casualties and collateral damage. Rebellions and revolutions are never pretty. Warriors are not here to play nice. The abuse of children has become normalised in our society, and if this were not the case, the Tambourine Army would not exist.
In the meantime, I urge my fellow Jamaicans to not just watch from the sidelines, but find ways in which we can all fight child abuse. We must reach out to victims, show them love, and break the silence. Regarding the Tambourine Army, I would like them to realise that not agreeing with all of their tactics does not equate to not empathising with them and their noble cause of fighting child abuse.
Michael Abrahams is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, comedian and poet. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.