Annie Paul | See and blind, hear and deaf
As I pointed out in an earlier column, Jamaican men cry rape every time women say, "Yes, let's say their names." A kind of hysteria breaks out because somehow they hear this as women demanding the right to falsely accuse men of raping them. But this is not what women are demanding at all, particularly in the new activism around violence against women.
According to Latoya Nugent, one of the founders of Tambourine Army, most of what has been said in both traditional and social media about the#saytheirnames movement is a damaging and gross misrepresentation. She clarifies that the movement is emphatically not about recklessly calling names without any context:
"When we encourage survivors to say the names of perpetrators, we are not telling them where to say that name, when to say that name, we are telling them that if they are ever ready to say the names of their perpetrators in private and/or in public, that support is available. Whether you want emotional support, psychological support or legal support, it is available for you. I want folks to appreciate that this is about facilitating the empowerment of survivors and about shifting the blame and shame away from survivors and placing it squarely at the feet of perpetrators and institutions that have allowed folks to abuse their positions of authority and trust because they are aware that we as a society silence our victims and our perpetrators."
"Our first response when a woman or girl says to us that they have been sexually assaulted or raped is that we don't believe them, and #Saytheirnames is about saying to such women, 'We believe you. If you decide to come forward, we believe you, we will provide the support that you need, and if we can't provide it, we will point you to the entities, or the agencies or the individuals who can give you the support that is needed.'"
Basically, there has been a see-and-blind, hear-and-deaf policy in place in Jamaica for decades. There is widespread buy-in from civil society, the media, the Church, the university, the legal fraternity, you name it. It is enforced by an army of prim citizens whose first reaction when you speak out about an injustice is to raise their finger to their lips in the universal gesture that means 'halt your speech'.
People are socialised to believe that it is fundamentally wrong to call someone's name in public, especially in the media. This should only be done after accusations have been proved in court, they say. But court cases take years to be completed in Jamaica, and even when they do, often fail to deliver justice. Take the case of the Reverend Paul Lewis, accused of raping a
14-year old girl in Sav-la-Mar, in the presence of another 14-year old girl who testified in court to the rape. Despite the reverend's semen being found on the child's underwear, despite the testimony of an eyewitness, a Jamaican court saw fit to hand down a not-guilty verdict.
More often than not, rape victims don't report the crime or give up during the extremely painful, invasive process of going to court to prosecute their attackers. A senior lecturer at UWI says: "I've watched helplessly while one of my (now former) students went through four years of appearances, delays, and postponements in the courts for the prosecution of two young men whom she had been able to identify as being among her assailants in a gang rape. She eventually decided to pull out of the case. As she put it, they had taken enough of her life, and every time she was required to make another court appearance, she relived the experience. She needed to move on. Justice denied. I wish the perpetrators could be named."
"Every year, an average of 5,500 people are reporting sexual violence to Canadian police, but their cases are dropping out of the system as unfounded long before a Crown prosecutor, judge or jury has a chance to weigh in," reports the Globe and Mail. The use of the term 'unfounded' to describe cases that the police have dropped because of the inadequacies of their own methods of interviewing victims, taking statements, etc, has been identified as highly problematic. The article goes on to state:
"True unfounded cases, which arise from malicious or mistaken reports, are rare. Between two per cent and eight per cent of complaints are false reports, according to research from North America, the United Kingdom and Australia."
There is no reason the numbers would be markedly different in Jamaica. Why then the moral panic about the mere possibility of libel in cyberspace? And why is there not a similar outcry about the out-of-control rape culture here?
- Annie Paul is a writer and critic based at the University of the West Indies and author of the blog, Active Voice (anniepaul.net). Email feedback to email@example.com or tweet @anniepaul.