Wrestling sexual violence to the ground

Published: Sunday | October 21, 2012 Comments 0

Glenda Simms, Contributor

Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti, in a 2008 publication titled Yes Means Yes!, proposed a number of arguments to reinforce the idea that when women and girls come to truly understand their need to be empowered in order to define and control their sexual power, we women of the global village will be on a path to experience a world without rape.

Such a vision is worth discussing openly in a Jamaican society that, regularly, has to confront the ongoing abnormal, horrendous and dehumanising impact of the rape and sexual abuse of women, girls and babies regardless of class, caste and sexual orientation.

In recent times, we have seen knee-jerk reactions to the brutal gang rapes of five females, including a 14-year-old and an eight-year-old girl.

This frightening incident has become a defining moment in the nation's consciousness. Civil-society groups, non-governmental organisers and recycled feminists became outraged and they met to talk and to moan and groan. Perhaps, before long, they will produce a set of solid strategies and concrete approaches to wrestle the remaining dysfunctional legacies of the patriarch to the ground, once and for all.

While the activities around this terrible incident of sexual violence were being discussed on the talk shows, in the pulpits and in the parlours of the contented classes, I was in Canada listening to the political debates on the threat to abortion rights and to all the progressive gains that many Canadian feminists and progressive activists have championed over time.

Many of my friends on both the Left and Right sides of the political fence were debating the outcomes of the deep cuts that the Harper administration has made to the public sector. They wondered HOW a large group of young, educated women and men who are now among the ranks of the unemployed would survive in the present economic reality of the Canadian society.

Sometimes, even progressive people tend to focus on economic issues in isolation from the social and political realities of their society.

I was, therefore, challenged by the need to understand the realities of my Canadian children's lives while I continue to think deeply about the realities of the sexual abuse that affected large numbers of women and girls in Jamaica, while the economic prospects continue to challenge our policymakers and all our citizens.

50 YEARS OLDER, 50 YEARS WISER

Indeed, while the solid achievements of our young Olympians have forced the Jamaican society to think about our 50 years of Independence from British colonial rule in new and creative ways, and enjoy our history and cultural strengths, the many incidents of violence that have been reported in recent times have turned smiles into frowns and grimaces.

Amid our many moments of joy, we are daily jolted by vigilante criminality and barbarism, sexual violence against women and girls of all ages, scamming and exploitation of senior citizens at home and abroad, and the trafficking of women, and children.

The impact of these activities will, of necessity, force policymakers, community activists, faith-based leaders, parents and guardians, men and women, to revisit, understand and come to grips with the cumulative impact of these abuses on the structure of Jamaican society.

In sexual violence, we need to identify the long- and short-term impact of such horrendous abuse of human beings, especially if we plan to reach the goal of a world without rape, which is the vision of Friedman and Valenti.

In order for the further empowerment of women, the entire society must have an appreciation of the impact of gender-based violence on individuals, groups and the psyche of the nation.

As a starting point, we can remind ourselves of the insights of distinguished writers and researchers such as Beverly Engel, author of The Emotionally Abused Woman, who defined abuse as any behaviour designed to control and subjugate another human being through fear, humiliation and verbal or physical abuse.

EMOTIONAL ABUSE IS JUST AS HARMFUL

While physical abuse is covered under the legal systems in most societies, emotional abuse is oftentimes neglected or poorly understood. Emotional abuse erodes the victim's self-confidence, and lowers self-esteem and self-worth.

Importantly, emotionally abused human beings tend to blame themselves and cling to their abusers in the hope that they will change. Potential emotional abusers can include in their ranks: lovers, husbands, wives, bosses, co-workers and friends.

The current high levels of reported gender-based violence in Jamaican society is a threat not only to the safety and security of individuals and communities, but a major source of financial stress on our health and educational systems.

In particular, the health services must take the following into account:

  • Violence against women and and children must be a public-health priority.
  • The cost and consequence of all aspects of such violence.
  • Medical bills that must be borne by citizens who can barely afford the basic necessities of life.
  • Women and girls who are being forced to carry pregnancies which have resulted from rapes, incest and carnal abuse.
  • Women, girls and boys who are diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.
  • Women and girls who are the victims of botched abortions and all the related problems.
  • Generalised high levels of depression and the debilitating impact of all these mental and physical pains on individuals, family members and the threat to healthy child development.

Within this framework of wrestling with all forms of violence, the Jamaican State is being challenged to ensure that it fulfils its commitment to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women in line with our commitments to the Millennium Development Goals.

When women and girls are empowered to control and value their sexuality, they will start to create the power base to build a world free from rape and other forms of sexual, emotional and physical abuse.

The time is right for new modes of thinking and understanding. Are we ready?

Glenda P. Simms, PhD, is a gender expert and consultant. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and glendasimms@gmail.com.

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