Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Orville Taylor | Free speech no free-for-all

Published:Sunday | March 26, 2017 | 3:00 AM

Despite my Afrocentricity, I am not a big fan of the tambourine having fallen out of love with it since my erstwhile colleague Ragashanti associated it with mix-up and 'blenda'. Indeed, as musical instruments go, my preference is for the little harmonica, which fits neatly in one's mouth and not the big organ such as those with the overly large pipes used by church folk.

Therefore, when my friend initiated the gang with that iconic tool in the war against gender-based violence and child abuse, I was totally in support of the cause, although not excited about the symbolism.

My position in regard to violence of any kind, including rape, has always been unequivocal. Men who violate little children need to be punished harshly, because they destroy an entire generation. In this newspaper, my constant battle, especially over the last few months, has been to push the unambiguous argument that child/sexual abusers are murderers themselves.

Just about three weeks ago, there was someone who was trying to put my mind in a chokehold because of my argument that having sex with a minor was not only rape but a causal factor in murder. Therefore, anyone who has any conscience or decency must want to 'bun out' all those wolves in sheep clothing.

Too often, nasty men - and a few women, too - pervert our children. True, a recent survey indicated that around 40 per cent of girls' first sexual encounters were forced, and I suppose that the data point to men and not the older or bigger girls or women who force themselves on them. This has no gender because there is the poster boy bugger of little boys, whose pederasty has destroyed the lives of hundreds.

It would be interesting to discover what percentage of gay men, lesbians and transgender people had their first sexual encounters forcibly as well. But that is discourse for a later and larger dialogue. What matters is that predators must not be allowed to get away with it.

Therefore, we must talk when there is any suspicion of child abuse, and rape victims must not try to protect their abusers. Sexual abuse is violence. As constantly elaborated right in this space, the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA) forces us to report offenders or suspected ones to the police. Yet, we are not judge, jury and executioner.

 

Innocent until proven guilty

 

Only courts of law and appropriate tribunals have the right to find anyone guilty and sentence them. This is an inviolable principle of a democracy; and the accused is innocent until proven guilty.

It is more than a trifle annoying when advocacy groups, such as those defending human rights, baulk over low conviction rates for certain offences. The oft-repeated 'justice was not served' is a dangerous statement, especially when it is implying that a court of law, including a bench trial, is bound to give a particular verdict. Any system in which there is a guarantee of conviction is one in which the determination of guilt is extrajudicial. However, the court of public opinion is another matter.

Yet, even in the people's court, there is no free-for-all. As we discuss the matter of sexual abuse, it is not only the male organ that can do damage. Oftentimes, the tongue is mightier than the sword and almost as bad as the pen is the penis.

The managers of this communication group, in their wisdom, force its on-air personalities to undergo training in the legal boundaries regarding defamation. It was not an option, because it was clearly understood damaging and unfounded communication could not be retrieved. Moreover, it did not matter if there was malice or whether or not the loose lips reasonably believe the allegation to be true.

As a member of the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ), I am a big defender of freedom of the press and freedom of expression. But oftentimes there is too much free and too much dumb when people's reputations are at stake. Those of us in media who fight the human-rights fight, and the law and order battle as well, don't generally realise that the damage to a person's reputation, and perhaps livelihood, is a major offence.

 

Rule of thumb

 

For me, the rule of thumb when discussing the issue of freedoms is when I ask myself, "Suppose it is my reputation that the journalist or advocate is sullying?"

In Jamaica, being branded a terrorist might mean that when I travel to the USA, they might have probable cause to detain me without trial for an indefinite period. Being falsely accused as a paedophile or rapist could easily incite my neighbours to literally burn down my house to the foundations. In some communities, being a child rapist can be a death sentence.

Therefore, inasmuch as I support the nominal idea that the Government removed criminal sanctions in concert with the international community in passing Defamation Act 2013, Section 9 of the 2015 Cybercrimes legislation addresses any computer posting (a) that is obscene, constitutes a threat or is menacing in nature and (b) with the intention to harass any person or cause harm or the apprehension of harm to any person or property ... ." So answer me, isn't rape a major obscenity? And doesn't being called a rapist constitute a basis for feeling fear?

As we debate about whether a person's reputation only requires civil and not criminal protection, let me ask, the CCPA demands that child sex abusers be investigated. Is there a charge called creating public mischief?

Nuff said! I hate rapists and child abusers more than most persons do, but the need to adhere to the rules of proof and truth does not vary even if our cause is just.

- Orville Taylor is head of UWI's Department of Social Sciences. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.