Wed | Nov 22, 2017

Betty Ann Blaine | Sex abuse and the Church: reveal, repent and redress

Published:Sunday | January 29, 2017 | 12:00 AM

"For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and

nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open."

(Luke 8:17)

As both a Christian and a child advocate, it is deeply

disturbing that it is the case of a Moravian pastor that has pushed the deep-seated scourge of sexual violence, to the top of the national agenda. Finally, however, it appears that we may be prepared to put an end to the hypocrisy and the cover-up.

For those seeking to blindly protect and defend the Church from this type of scandal, let me remind them that the Church is the conscience of the State, and, by definition, is held to the highest moral standard there is.

It is in that sacred role that citizens naturally presume that the interests and well-being of our children are best protected and promoted in, and by, the Church. In a country where violence is just about everywhere, we expect that it is at church that children are the safest.

When a pastor violates that standard and the trust that society places on the Church, it creates havoc and opens the door to the type of anti-Church bashing that has accompanied this serious and unsavoury case and the ensuing drama, which has made casualties of the president and deputy of the Moravians. Even more damaging is the private and public pain heaped on the young victims, often lasting throughout their entire lives.

 

LONG OVERDUE

 

Frankly, the spotlight on sexual abuse is long overdue. Sexual violence against children and adults has been a silent and secret feature of Jamaican society for much longer than many of us recognise or may want to admit.

In my many years of conducting focus group meetings with women - all of them parents - there was always in any group at least half of those clients who had been carnally abused or raped either in childhood or as young adults. Typically, those interventions would descend rapidly into an emotional abyss of sobbing and weeping as the women recounted their stories. None of the victims had ever received counselling.

Some of the women I've met over the years were sexually victimised while working as domestic helpers in middle- and upper-class homes in this country. There was one case that was brought to my attention in which the helper was not only raped by her employer, but the teenage son in the household was given free rein to 'bruk him ducks' and practise his 'manhood' on her.

Sexual abuse against children is at an all-time high and now has the distinction of being one of the fastest-growing crimes in Jamaica today. Statistics from the Office of the Children's Registry (OCR) have shown that there were close to 17,000 reports of sexual abuse between 2007 and 2014, this amid well-accepted high levels of under-reporting.

Not only are many of those children sexually violated by people they know, but also by persons sitting in important places in the society. The questions we have been asking for years are: Why aren't the investigations being done? And how is it that there are so few prosecutions?

Every single one of the more than 500 pregnant adolescent girls attending the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation across the island should warrant a full criminal investigation. I suspect that only a small percentage of those cases are adequately pursued by the governmental entities tasked with protecting children and to bringing perpetrators to justice.

The correlation between sexual violence and the abuse of power is one of the stark realities of Jamaican life. There are open secrets in the society surrounding individuals, both living and deceased, regarding the sexual abuse of minors. Of course, in a society where the class divide is so stark, the corruption so deep, and justice so unequal, the result is that nothing comes of any of those allegations. Young victims who are poor and dispossessed simply have no recourse or redress and continue to remain defenceless against this type of assault.

Sexual victimisation by pastors in the Church is an even greater abomination. It cannot be that the so-called 'righteous shepherd' who should be the protector of the flock is the very person who is the predator and abuser. The Church, as the whole body of Christ, should loudly and publicly denounce the egregious double standard and reject any attempts to cover up the crimes.

It is important to note, however, that there are many church leaders who have been addressing the problem for some time now. Five years ago, following the horrendous reports of the sexual abuse of minors made by Dr Sandra Knight of the Bustamante Hospital for Children, the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology, led by Dr Las Newman, and with my input, convened an emergency meeting of religious leaders to ascertain the Church's response. The consensus was that the Church should look inward first.

Emanating from that consultation were five action points, with guidelines and procedures for addressing the matter of sexual abuse in the church. The recommendations included policies for recruitment and placement of Church workers - including pastors - for background checks, police records, and intense screening and monitoring, among others.

The other steps called for the Church to "face the truth instead of protecting reputation"; for "personal ethical conduct"; and for the relevant "education and training".

Despite efforts by some, the Church has, by and large, remained silent on the matter of sexual abuse, and particularly sexual violence against children, and is now facing the music for its collective non-action.

It is my recommendation that the Church is now obligated to first call for a full, unbiased, and unhindered revelation of sexual crimes. Second, call for repentance, starting with the Church and involving the entire nation. And third, offer the forum with the support of professional counsellors and mediators, for at the very least, emotional and psychological redress for all victims.

The time has come for us to do the right thing and to implore and invite God's forgiveness, mercy and blessings as we collectively commit to healing our land.

- Betty Ann Blaine is a child advocate and founder of Hear The Children's Cry and Youth Opportunities Unlimited. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and bab2609@yahoo.com.