Betty-Ann Blaine, who is associated with the outfit Hear the Children's Cry, was typical in her response to the recent spate of horrific crimes against women and children, including the gang rape in St James of an eight-year-old girl, her mother and aunt, and two others.
"... These sexual crimes deserve the strongest punishment that any society can give, and that is the death penalty," Mrs Blaine told this newspaper.
"It [rape] is tantamount to murder," she added. "At the very least, they [sexual offenders] should get life imprisonment without parole."
Others have called for the castration of rapists and other forms of punishment just short of, if not up to, burning at the stake.
But these emotional reactions miss the point. They are, in many respects, reminiscent of what we have in the past referred to as the Bartlett syndrome - the 1980s response by Edmund Bartlett, then the minister with responsibly for youth affairs, when there was a rising incidence of incest and other forms of child molestation in Jamaica.
Mr Bartlett took legislation to Parliament to raise the age of consent from 14 to 16, which may have been a good thing. But in so far as we are aware, that didn't change the number of cases of sexual abuse of children. Anecdotal evidence suggests that such legislation merely increased the incidence as more girls fell in the age range of legal abuse.
There was, however, no increase in the arrest, prosecution and punishment of the persons who abused them. And this, we fear, is the likely outcome of the banshee cries for vengeance against today's abusers.
The point is not so much that the laws against sexual abuse or, for that matter, other crimes, are weak. Rather, it's a failure of enforcement, and when people are charged for crimes, the slowness in the justice system to resolve their cases.
When people are apprehended and cases heard in reasonable time, there are three effects: the law works as a deterrent; it minimises the likelihood of mob justice of the kind we have seen recently, and it helps to bring some closure to victims.
JAMAICA'S JUSTICE WOES
These are not the outcomes in a situation such as Jamaica's so far this year, where only 39 per cent of the reported murders have been 'cleared up'. The police do a bit better with carnal abuse. The cleared-up rate for the 553 cases to September is 53 per cent.
As we have noted before, 'cleared up' does not mean that an alleged perpetrator was caught and taken to court, much more tried and convicted. It, for the most part, means that a suspect has been identified.
Unfortunately, the police do not report on the number of cases that are actually prosecuted, or on the verdicts in those prosecutions. Nor do the prosecution services provide a public tracking of these cases. It is reasonable to assume, however, that they join the logjam in the courts, the backlog of more than 400,000 cases that clog the system.
We, too, are outraged by the abuse of women and children in our society and other forms of crime. But new laws are not, by themselves, the solution.
An efficient police force that solves crimes and a court system that disposes of cases are essential.
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