Mon | Oct 22, 2018

Gordon Robinson | Put down your tambourines

Published:Sunday | March 19, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Members and supporters of the Tambourine Army rally against sexual abuse and violence towards women during a march along Molynes Road, Kingston, on March 11.
A tattoo bearing the logo of the Tambourine Army.

As usual, when Jamaicans have a conversation about sex, it all goes sideways.

The current debate on the definition of 'rape' and age of 'consent' has majored in the minor (pun intended). The word 'rape' has its roots (Latin 'rapere') in 15th-century England and is related to the Latin verb 'stuprare', which means 'to defile, ravish, violate,' and the noun 'stuprum' (literally 'disgrace'), meaning 'to abduct (a woman), ravish'; also 'seduce (a man)'.

So, the origins of 'rape' are gender neutral, and the word carried more of a kidnapping or stealing connotation ('to seize and take away by force'; 'to snatch, to grab, to carry off'), rather than any sexually explicit intent. The essence of rape has always been the taking of innocence by force rather than the modern semantic obsession with 'penetration' and 'vaginas'. Following British legal tradition like sheep for 500 years, we're now debating whether statutory rape should be decided by a number (age) or an orifice.

While we argue endlessly, young women and men of all ages are regularly abused sexually by persons society hold in high esteem. Not only do we seem unable to stem the apparently ingrained cultural tide, we're incapable of recognising the problem.

"Dance and shake your tambourine;

your funky tambourine,

tambourine, tambourine ..."

A 'Tambourine Army' seemingly dominated by female victims of sexual abuse marched recently to "protest violence against women". Apparently, a grand time was had by all, and I've seen evidence on social media of this organisation's facility with condemnation, but I don't recall one concrete proposal towards understanding or addressing the issue.

Even leading feminist diva Annie Paul admitted, in one of her columns: "For the victims of abuse who participated, the march was part of the healing process. For others ... it ... felt like a valuable ... exercise. As children, we never learnt of organised demonstrations/protesting as an option for us to show disapproval of any social problem ... ." Showing disapproval is easy; finding solutions uncommon.


Age is just a number


Take the age of consent, currently 16. Sparrow was spot on when he pronounced age to be just a number. All any patient pervert needs do is wait until the child is 16 years and a day (and 'consents') before making his move. The silliness of this legal numbers game is exposed by any 17-year-old girl who can 'consent' to sex but can't vote or enter into any other adult transaction.

We're obsessed with rules but blind to principle. We misguidedly focus on defining 'rape' when Jamaica's real problem is one of sexual abuse. That monster has many faces, operates in a wide spectrum, and knows no number, gender, or orifice. It simply is.

A 64-year-old pastor buys groceries for a 19-year-old's mother, and, in exchange, is given free rein with the young lady (who is more than willing to cooperate). In my opinion, the pastor sexually abuses that 19-year-old. His status as God's messenger and his superior financial and educational resources put him in a special relationship with the family who thus become victim to his sexual abuse (no need to prove 'penetration' or 'age').

Jamaica needs to stop 'flattering' about in a centuries-old, colonial-based, dogma-driven box where we obsess about proving ugly and embarrassing details in order to enforce gender-biased laws of 'rape'. We must get to the root of our indigenous problem whereby Jamaican men consider it a proud achievement to 'play with' a 15-year-old girl and believe sex with a virgin cures venereal disease. If we study our cultural perversions dispassionately, we'll discover that there's only one true offence, sexual abuse, and begin developing a Jamaican jurisprudence where any situation involving force, unequal power, status, or influence to coerce sexual gifts creates the offence.


The curse


True story: A six-month-old baby boy whose mother was imprisoned is placed with a family that includes a mentally deranged male who 'rapes' the little boy to get 'the cure'. The baby, damaged beyond repair, is belatedly turned over to the police and medical personnel. Who among you needs a legal definition of 'rape' or proof of the orifice used or gender to make a finding of sexual abuse in this case?

Michael Abrahams, a talented satirist and insightful columnist, wrote ('Child abuse can cause cancer', Gleaner, June 27, 2016):

"According to local data from the [2008] National Reproductive Health Survey, 34 per cent of adolescent girls in Jamaica reported [to the survey] their first sexual encounter was coerced."

A 1998 USA study conducted by Dean Kilpatrick PhD found "rape is the most under-report ed that crime in America". Between 67-84 per cent of rapes of women over 18 go unreported (13 per cent reported).

In another column, Abrahams reported that he once saw four adult female patients in office, and three complained of sexual abuse as children.

Get this: We have an all-embracing child sex-abuse problem that's destructive of the nation's soul. These young people carry their post-traumatic stress disorders into their own parenting to produce more dysfunctional families. We must disrupt this evil cycle NOW.

Lisa Hanna has been bravely speaking out on what clearly needs treating as a national emergency, but colleagues appear to yawn and drift off to sleep. Proving how deep the rot has set in, she received a flood of abuse for her efforts, including being advised to perform any number of unnatural sex acts on her mother.

While lawmakers fiddle, Jamaica burns in a conflagration of sexual abuse. It's time to stop the semantic squabbling and devise a Jamaican solution to this very Jamaican problem. Get our lazy university-bound academics off their rear ends and commission a scientific study of the root causes of sexual violence. We must answer some fundamental questions without reference to religious dogma:

Why are males the rapists and females (usually) the victims?

Why is rape a horrendous experience for the victim?

Why does the mental trauma vary with the types of sex acts?

Why do young males rape more often than older males?

Why are rape victims more often young women than older women or pre-pubescent girls?

Why is rape more frequent in some situations such as war than others?

Why are people (especially husbands) often suspicious of an individual's claim to have been raped?

Why have attempts to reform rape laws achieved only limited success?


Feelings of revenge


Until we make serious, scientific efforts to answer as many of these whys as possible, we could take the Inner City Express, march and shake tambourines to our hearts' content, or name and shame whoever we want, we won't locate a sexual violence antidote. Currently, our knee-jerk, ad hoc, slavishly plagiaristic legal prescriptions, based on visceral feelings of revenge, haven't made a dent in incidents of sexual violence.

We need to trace man's evolution, using Darwinian theories of natural selection, and discover what evolutionary adaptations resulted in violent attitudes and why they seem far more prevalent in males. I'm not saying we evolved naturally to rape women, but I am saying evolution happens for a 'good' purpose, but changing environments can render results 'bad'. 'Good' and 'bad' are used as evolutionary, NOT moral, adjectives.

A tree evolves so its seeds ensure reproduction. Along comes man, who constructs a concrete sidewalk. The tree's seeds, perfectly designed adaptations created by Darwinian natural selection over generations for a 'good' purpose, fall on to man's sidewalk and have no chance of surviving or reproducing in that environment.

When we scientifically pinpoint rape's proximate cause (usually psychological or sociological) and ultimate cause (natural selection), we'll be better informed and can develop the required medical/therapeutic procedures to treat the problem and a unique jurisprudence to deal with offenders. I believe the problem's ultimate root is evolutionary. But, what are the peculiar evolutionary adjustments causing Jamaican men to take such a warped approach to sex? Is it related to our African ancestry? Or our British environment?

Eventually, Jamaica's jurisprudence should include only one sex crime ('sexual abuse'). Parliament should permit judges to decide which antisocial actions fall under the 'sexual abuse' umbrella and provide a potpourri of sentencing options (to be applied depending on the severity or savagery of the offence), including chemical castration, a sex offenders' registry, and restitution. Clinics should routinely offer legal abortions to rape victims. No point ranting and raving against the demon. Let's understand and counteract its origins.

Will we begin? Or do we prefer dancing with tambourines and spitting in the wind?

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@