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‘I forgave my rapist!’ - Slow justice system frustrates victims into abandoning cases

Published:Sunday | July 5, 2015 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Diahann Gordon Harrison
Superintendent Enid Ross-Stewart
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He stole her innocence, caused her to leave her community and destroyed her trust in people, but when it was time for her church brother and neighbour to be prosecuted for raping her, Pamela* did the unexpected. She begged the judge to let him go free.

"I turned to my lawyer and I said, 'I just want to let it go. I want to move on. I want to live my life," Pamela told The Sunday Gleaner.

Her decision, though seemingly selfless, is one that concerns those tasked with bringing sex offenders to book. It is also one of the primary factors being cited for Jamaica's relatively low conviction rates when it comes to rape.

According to preliminary data from the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA), there were 1,228 sexual-offence cases reported to the unit in 2014, and 907 of them involved minors.

There were 651 cases of rape reported for that year, of which 342 have been cleared up. Up to March of this year, 38 individuals were convicted for rape. However, these convictions included cases that had been lagging in the court for years.

The Jamaica Economic and Social Survey for 2014 shows that of the 2,447 reported rapes that took place between 2012 and 2014, only 1,120 have been cleared up.

 

NOT UNCOMMON

 

"It is not uncommon for young women to forgive, especially those who are under 16," said CISOCA head, Superintendent Enid Ross-Stewart.

"It is quite prevalent. A number of the young ladies, after a while, don't want to go any further with it, and it's for more than one reason," she said.

Oftentimes, however, it's because of the length of time it takes to prosecute an offender.

"Sometimes they get tired of coming to court. Sometimes they don't have money to continue, and the police will have to perhaps find them, take them to court, [and] buy them lunch, but their own pride sometimes won't allow them," said the CISOCA head.

It is feared that instead of being repentant and grateful for a second chance, some of these sex offenders go on to rape other women.

A solution to the problem has been elusive for the most part, and despite pleading with these girls to reconsider, Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison said they oftentimes are very strident in their stance.

"Perhaps if we can get it together so that by the time it reaches to trial, we don't have a long lap, then that would serve as a great incentive to keep complainants in the loop and [allow them to] give evidence before frustration kicks in," said Gordon Harrison.

"We really do need the cooperation of the complainants if we are going to see a large number of the cases going through," added the children's advocate.

For her part, Ross-Stewart said while she has no evidence to suggest that these girls have been pressured to walk away from the justice system, it is a major blow to the unit whenever a girl decides to drop a rape case.

"The truth is that they (investigators) are disheartened, but then what can they do? They have a job to do, so you feel hurt about it and you continue," said Ross-Stewart. "You look and you see the accused, who you work so hard to get before the court, walking free, laughing, and is left to do the very same thing they did to that person again."

For those victims who see the matter through to the end, Ross-Stewart said it is usually a good feeling.

"Some continue, despite, and are very happy and break down in tears when the sentences are handed down because they believe now that justice has been served."

Pamela was only 15 years old when she was raped. Shortly after the traumatic encounter, she called her guidance counsellor, who quickly made contact with her parents. Within a few hours, she was being questioned by the police and was asked to do medical examinations to secure evidence.

Her rapist, a highly regarded father of six in their rural community, was later arrested and charged with the offence. He, too, was asked to do medical examinations, which he reluctantly agreed to long after the incident.

The case seemed airtight initially, but after a few months of going back and forth to court, Pamela said she got weary. By the time she was to give her testimony, the adolescent had made up her mind that it was better to forgive.

"I was tired of it; tired of going back and forth, court date changing all the while," she said. "I held up my hand out of respect to ask her (the judge) if I could speak, and she gave me the permission to speak, and I didn't even look at him. I was still facing the judge and I said to her, 'I want to forgive this man'," said Pamela.

She said after raping her in a small room at her school, which he occupied as a caretaker, her abuser offered her $1,000 and told her to come back the next day because he had a surprise for her. She is still shocked at the audacity of the man who she said caused her to change school, cut ties with her church family, and ingrained in her a fear of men.

She doesn't even want to be hugged by her own father, who she was close to prior to the life-changing encounter.

Pamela, who sees her rapist regularly, still hasn't had closure, although she is trying to move on with her life.

"I wanted things to be better. I had hoped to get over it now. Not to be 'fraidy-fraidy' and scared about it, but right now, I cannot have a relationship," said the now 20-year-old.

* Name changed on request.

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com