Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Don't hijack Sexual Offences Act review

Published:Thursday | October 9, 2014 | 10:00 AM

We need to learn that when human rights and sex are being discussed, or related laws are being reviewed, that it is not always about buggery. For some strange reason unbeknown to the rest of us, people have misconstrued the purpose of the recently constituted joint select committee to review the Sexual Offences Act and other related acts, and are now stimulated and uncannily dripping with anticipation to protest against a particular orifice.

It is important that we understand that while the actions - pending the recommendations of the committee - can have implications on several pieces of legislation, the review is not only about the repeal or amendment of the 'buggery law'. There are several pressing matters that must be addressed to ensure there is greater protection for all Jamaicans. So gay-rights advocates and 'concerned persons' such as those from Jamaica CAUSE and the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society do not have to be so worried.

NEED FOR FULL PROTECTION

I agree the buggery law needs to change, but let's not pervert the course of justice for the thousands of Jamaicans such as children, wives, and males who are victims of sexual violence and do not have the full protection of the law.

Among the key issues that should be considered by the joint select committee (as taken from a joint submission prepared by Tenesha Myrie for several civil society organisations, including Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, J-FLAG, Caribbean DAWN, Jamaica AIDS Support for Life, and WMW Jamaica) are:

The definition of sexual intercourse, which needs to include oral and anal penetration by a penis, and vaginal and anal penetration by an object;

The definition of sexual activity, which, preferably, should be akin to the one used in the Child Pornography (Prevention) Act 2009;

Extending the offence of rape to include non-consensual oral and anal penetration by a penis and non-consensual vaginal and anal penetration with an object that is manipulated by the offender;

Removing all marital rape exemptions;

Making the language that is used throughout the Sexual Offences Act gender-neutral;

Including as an offence when a child is caused to watch a sexual act;

Revising the language used to refer to a person living with disability and mental disorders and including in the section treatment with mental disorder or persons with intellectual disabilities;

Decriminalising prostitution;

Recognising and criminalising the violation of elderly persons in residential care and institutionalised facilities; and

"The law on compellability be revised to allow for a spouse to be a compellable witness where the matter concerns a sexual offence committed against a child".

There are in excess of 20 recommendations in the full document and I encourage all interested parties who are clearly oblivious to the gross omissions and inadequacies in the acts that are under review to familiarise themselves with them (and have a more enlightened perspective).

Appallingly, the Sexual Offences Act is now being labelled as 'anti-gay'. I saw this in a news story on Pink News, a UK-based online news company. It is my understanding that despite the inadequacies, the Sexual Offences Act does not discriminate based on sexual orientation or identity. Or is it that I have foolishly followed the counsel of my colleagues in the women's movement? On top of that, some religious-based persons have said they will be doing all it takes to prevent buggery from becoming legal. I had no idea this was Senator Mark Golding's intention, or has he had to bow to the so-called powerful gay lobby? How much more ridiculous can we be?

WAR ON BUGGERY LAW

It means, therefore, that once again, we have been aroused to mobilise a mass of people to declare war in relation to the 'buggery law' found in Sections 76, 77 and 79 of the Offences Against the Person Act to either prevent the nefarious 'gay lobby' from succeeding in repealing or amending the law or ensuring 'the church is not successful'.

A J-FLAG-commissioned research in 2012, which was conducted by Professor Ian Boxill from the University of the West Indies, found that "86 per cent of Jamaicans believe someone who had non-consensual anal sex with a woman should receive the same punishment as someone who had non-consensual vaginal sex with her".

Evidently, some of us ought to be reminded of the purpose of the legislation and the intended purpose of the joint select committee to review the Sexual Offences Act 2009 and other related acts, including, but not limited to, the Offences Against the Person Act (1864), which contains the provision prohibiting anal sex and male same-sex intimacy.

Let's not fool ourselves and make a mockery of an important process that seeks to guarantee greater protection for all us, regardless of our sexual orientation.

Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.