Child abuse cases ‘really heinous’ - CISOCA head
While reported cases of physical abuse against children have been trending down since the start of the year, the severity of the cases has not changed and appear to have got worse, according to Superintendent of Police Enid Ross-Stewart, head of the Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA).
Ross-Stewart made the uncomfortable revelation to The Gleaner following a public forum put on last week by the Rights Awareness Programme and the British Council at the St John's Methodist Church Action Centre, in Montego Bay, St James.
"At CISOCA, we are seeing a decline in the number of physical abuse cases ... less reports, but we are really seeing hard cases," said Ross-Stewart. "A case in point is a 15-year-old girl, who had come home from school late. She was beaten by her father, beaten again by her aunt and given another hard beating by her grandmother ... . All three beat her the one evening for coming from school late. So while there are not a plethora of reports, the ones that we see are really grievous."
Ross-Stewart said other serious cases have emerged, some worse than the one with the teenage girl, which she described as "really heinous".
In regards to sexual offences, Ross-Stewart said a diversion programme, which was introduced in Kingston and St Andrew as a pilot project, is still being measured for its effectiveness in dealing with children under 16 years old who are engaging in agreed sexual relationships.
"Once they agree that they are having a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, an established relationship, and having sex, they are referred to the Women's Centre for counselling," said Ross-Stewart. "... at the end of this counselling, the director of public prosecutions is asked to make a determination as to whether they (the males) are charged with the offence of having sex with a girl under 16 or they are free of the charges because they would have been having established sex ... . We all know that young boys and girls do have their sex but they are saying that we should not charge them because they have agreed."
Ross-Stewart indicated, however, that if they refuse to accept the recommended action of counselling under the diversion programme, then the matter is referred to the Family Court where a ruling is made.
However, the CISOCA head said that once the male is 17 years or over, then he is liable to face the regular court system and the penalty under the law.
So far this year, 182 cases of girls under 16 engaging in sexual relations have been reported to CISOCA, which is one more than the 181 cases reported for the same period last year.
"The girls generally do not come to us. They are reported by teachers, parents or threatened by someone who knows and we get the reports then," said Ross-Stewart.
Speaking about incest, Ross-Stewart said such sexual acts between relatives is rampant in Jamaica, but cited that a stipulation under the law is that sexual relations between two cousins is not considered an offence, but sex with any other relative is illegal.