Sun | Dec 10, 2017

Andre Wright | Rape, victims and villains

Published:Sunday | August 27, 2017 | 12:00 AMAndre Wright

Rape is among the most horrific of crimes, not only because it sears the victim and often leaves her - technically, it can only be her in Jamaica's jurisprudence - scarred and scared, but its effects tend to be so lasting that it influences every moment of her life. If she ever loves again. The gentle brush of intimacy that harks back to the crawly trespass of that creep. Every time she walks up to open her grille at night. How late she stays out partying. If she parties at all. How she shapes her daughter's views on men.

We often try to paper over the cracks and encourage raped girls and women to get over their pain, to be overcomers and not be shackled by history's clutches. It's so easy to spit out a laundry list of self-help mantras, but it wasn't your neck that was gripped in a chokehold, putrid breath causing your nostrils to flare and sputum soiling your chaste lips. It wasn't you whose thighs were braced, skin lacerated and privates pummelled by a monster.

This is the violent reality of rape that we must face. Your stomach should churn, your intestines contorting at violation that finds no equal. And your conscience ought to be jolted to report any inkling of such sexual abuse, particularly against children, the disabled and the aged, whose vulnerability makes them easy pickings for sexual predators.

But many Jamaicans know of such sexual exploitation and turn a blind eye, accepting rape as a subcultural norm that threads the fabric of moral ambivalence that causes so many victims to stop fighting, to sacrificially pay the price for feeding the family, or to opportunistically - to be morbidly paradoxical - satisfy the exploiter long enough to provide the platform for his escape and independence.

It was just a few months ago, May to be exact, that The Sunday Gleaner unveiled a canvas of sexual torture in the west-central St Andrew community of Waterhouse, where daughters were being pimped and made the concubines of bad men and even their own fathers.

As Manda, a young woman, said in that report: "Some things going on in the lane that I don't like - even fathers doing it to their daughters. It's like the norm.

"You will just hear an underage girl a pass and a talk say three men sexed her last night. There was this young girl whose mother wasn't sending her to school and men just came and used her, and when the police intervened, the mother told lies to cover it up, so it just dropped," she added.

 

Flip the script

 

Despite the police and others vowing to flip the script on sexual predation there, nothing has changed. Up to a week or two ago in Waterhouse, a father found out that a gangster had taken his daughter as his sex slave. So doting dad went to reclaim his daughter and was stabbed multiple times and left on the ground gasping. Residents came to his rescue and carried him to hospital. The silver lining: At least the fella didn't unload his gun and 'done' dear dad.

But while acknowledging the incomparable pain borne by victims of rape, we must accept that in many spheres of society - unlike Waterhouse - rape leaves an inerasable stigma on persons accused of such sexual brutality. Even persons who are charged with murder are spared the eternal stain that rape accusations leave.

And that's why I strongly believe that Jamaican media should implement an industry norm to withhold publication of the identity of persons accused of rape, carnal abuse and other sexual offences. Consequent on conviction, they should be free to out them for the perverts they have been proven to be.

To be clear, there is no moral equivalency between protecting the identity of a rape victim because of the public embarrassment it may cause her and the vulnerability to attack, harassment and intimidation by sympathisers of the accused. But it cannot be discounted that a man who is labelled as a rapist, prior to conviction, will never recover his social standing and will forever pay a heavy toll. Even if the Sunday school supervisor, primary-school teacher, or swim coach was acquitted of rape, would you leave your eight-year-old in his care? Would you approve of your daughter attending a weekend camp chaperoned by the Girls Champs coach who beat a rape rap?

I know, I know. The mob is already stringing up that noose to lynch me for undue sympathy for those sadists. On the matter of rape, we tend to discard the tenets of natural justice, and due process, and engage, as was pointed out in a recent letter to the editor published in The Gleaner, in conviction by allegation. "Dem muss did dweet!" bay the cynics, hungry not so much for justice but for the opportunity to hack into the reputation of the accused.

Remember the brothers in the Irwin mass rape of five women and girls? So overwhelming was the national outrage and contempt that it seemed there was no lawyer willing to defend them. After all, it was a fait accompli, in the court of public opinion, that they were guilty, except for the slight inconvenience of exculpatory DNA evidence that the chief prosecutor considered sufficiently peripheral to the process to press on with the doomed case for the greater good of public interest.

Shaneke Williams, the discarded beauty queen aspirant, might very well be a monster. But a court did not establish that fact. So as salacious as the accusations were against her, having been cleared by virtue of the complainant dropping the case, her reputation would have been insulated somewhat from stigma if her identity had been withheld. But there's no chance now of redemption for her reputation.

 

'Raper pastor'

 

If Kenneth Blake, pastor of the Harvest Temple Apostolic Church, did rape that 12-year-old girl, I hope he rots in prison - and hell. But if he is freed, he will still be referred to as the "raper pastor" as a journalist overheard a passer-by outside the church say this week.

In the words of the Tambourine Army, they should be named and shamed - even before formal charges are laid -- but I wonder if the public understands the discrimination and social hostility those two brothers faced, even after the Irwin case was thrown out?

Naming and shaming might be good rhetoric, but it is a dangerous and reputationally fatal blow to men who are absolved by the judicial process.

That's why I took offence to the Tambourine Army and its campaign of vigilantism led by co-founder Latoya Nugent, who arrogated to herself and her group quasi-judicial powers to expose, try, convict and sentence perceived sexual predators.

I admire the group's passion - and I'm not being patronising - in seeking to empower and embolden victims of rape to make those villains pay. The nature of rape and the shame and pain that follow are key factors behind the under-reporting of the crime. And society's reflex to blame women for the violation of their person - "She dresses like a slut"; "It was bound to happen one day"; "What did she expect?"; "Like mother, like daughter"; - must be rebuffed and confronted for the patriarchal aloofness that it is.

The Tambourine Army will not be ultimately successful if it fights only from the outside. It needs to get on the inside by lobbying churches, schools and other institutions in which girls - and boys - fall under the care of authority figures to establish strict policies on adult-child interaction. Many churches have no policy proscribing girls seeking counselling by a pastor at his home? Or doing so at the church office without a senior female sitting in on the session?

Staging workshops in schools or, specifically, with school clubbites are effective mechanism for getting the message out in safeguarding girls from rape or encouraging victims to go to the police and bringing attackers to justice.

But if we only view rape through one prism, we forget that there may be unintended victims of spite or malice or mistake who should not share the same fate as convicted predators. True justice should not fry innocents in the oil of contempt for sexual savages.

- Andre Wright is the Gleaner's opinion editor. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.