Child abusers: Finding the demons among us
Even when the regular tribalists come on air and try to push my red, green or orange buttons, I only appear to get flustered. However, Wednesday last, the bitter taste of swallowed tears and the lump inside my throat fought against the words and I choked like a politician speaking the truth as I read the story written by our own Gary Spaulding. It was a graphic tale - and just one too many.
Since January, 15 children have been murdered. Kayalicia Simpson, a 14-year-old student at Donald Quarrie High, who commuted from St Thomas, was savagely killed. The details of the macabre homicide won't be repeated in this column.
Just weeks earlier, an infant, three-year-old Crystal Coleman of St Mary, was murdered. In that same parish, Tishauna Henry, a student of Annotto Bay High School,was found face down in the Dry River, a short while after she went to wash. Then Santoya Campbell of Frome Technical in Westmoreland was found lifeless. In the latter case, it is some modicum of satisfaction that her killer confessed and has been given a long sentence. Of course, the sentiment of many is that he should have been executed forthwith.
This picture is a sad one, and is the tip of the iceberg. We can only guess the number of child abuse cases per year, because I am willing to bet that the majority of them go unreported. Homicides are, unfortunately, the only reliable statistic, because murder is almost always discovered and recorded. Nonetheless, child abuse has quite a range and at the lower end of the continuum, it involves emotional abuse and neglect, and at the upper end, physical, including sexual abuse and, of course, murders.
Our Office of the Children's Registry recorded a 24 per cent increase in all categories of child abuse between 2012 and 2013, with the data for 2014 still being collated. During that period, the number of abuse cases reported increased from 8,741 to 11,018. This represents, in raw numbers, an increase of 2,277 incidents. However, there were 7,185 children abused in 2012, compared to 8,679. With abuse increasing faster than the number of children, this means that there was a rise in the number of offences against each child. Therefore, qualitatively, this represents a worsening of the situation, since we are looking at an increase of 1,494 children.
The major categories in the report show physical abuse increasing from 2,343 to 2,912. Sexual-abuse cases saw a rise from 2,756 to 3,386 over the period and, most remarkably, the 'in need of care and protection' category shot up from 3,040 to 4,254, a 40 per cent increase, and the single largest jump in the data.
A single word to describe children who fit this classification is 'vulnerable.' These children, for whatever reason, do not enjoy the full protection of their parents, and the State has to intervene to 'protect' them. Unfortunately, in Jamaica and in other countries, the social relations within childcare institutions often lead to other kinds of abuse, including those of a sexual nature, from their peers, some of whom show characteristics of hardened criminals.
Split along gender lines, most of the offences do not vary much by sex. However, the notable exception is where 92 per cent of all sexual-abuse cases are against girls and all of the five human-trafficking reports in 2013 were girls.
Still, apart from the murders, one doesn't know if there is an increase in other acts of violence against children. After all, the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA) removes any discretionary power from the 'mi no business!' neighbour. Section 6(2) dictates that any "... person who has information which causes that person to suspect that a child (a) has been, is being or is likely to be, abandoned, neglected or physically or sexually ill treated; or (b) is otherwise in need of care and protection, shall make a report to the Registry." And anyone who does not because he doesn't want to be an 'informer' can be liable to a $500,000 fine or a six-month sentence, or both.
Therefore, it could simply mean that the CCPA is proving effective.
Globally, a World Health Organisation (WHO) report suggests that at least 20 per cent of women and up to 10 per cent of men suffered sexual abuse as children. There are causal factors on both ends as well. We know that the literature is very heavy with references to persons who have been abused, becoming abusers themselves.
Similarly, there are statistical patterns regarding victims. For example, most missing children five years and older who are feared dead are most likely to be abducted by strangers, not necessarily unknown. However, with children younger than five, there is a greater likelihood that the perpetrator is a close family member. Indeed, a frightening majority of these cases involve biological parents.
An article in the American journal Victims and Offenders outlines this correlate and further typifies the murderers of 13- to 17-year-olds as "most likely to be a close friend or a stranger, sexually driven, killing with weapons". And these animals tend to act with swift haste. Data from 621 cases across 44 American states reveal that 44 per cent of victims were killed within an hour and 74 per cent within three hours. This explains why most victims are found within a 60-metre radius.
For criminals to act, there are three components. The first is motivation: a child molester/killer is not a normal-minded person, even if he blends in seamlessly in society. We have to pay close attention to our boys and their socialisation. Second, there is means - it takes nothing for killers to rape and murder; so we focus on the third, opportunity.
Accuse no one but trust nobody with your child. Always try to know where he or she is. And if you see or even smell anything suspicious, please talk.
- Dr Orville Taylor, winner of the Morris Cargill Award for Opinion Journalism, is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. His new book, 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets', is available at the UWI Bookshop. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.