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Peter Espeut | Naming the problem to solve it

Published:Friday | February 19, 2021 | 12:10 AM

The first step in solving any problem is admitting that there is a problem. This is step one in most programmes to beat alcohol/drug addiction, and it is no less true for those persons with problems with obesity, and money management. It is when you finally admit that you have a problem that you can begin to strategise to solve it.

This is also true for social problems, and we here in Jamaica have many deep-seated and intractable challenges. Our high murder rate is of global proportions, and although much of it is gang-related, much is also related to family members or intimate partners being unable to control their tempers. Persons who ‘draw machete’ and ‘chop up’ their brothers or friends, or who hire contract killers to assassinate their spouses, are psychologically malformed. You also see it in the quick resort to violence among students on the playground, at domino games, or by parents mercilessly beating their children. Home, school and church are failing to properly socialise new members of society, and to foster balanced personality development.

Have we accepted that we have a problem in Jamaica with how children are brought up? Or are we in denial? If we don’t name the problem, we will never solve it.

According to a 2016 study, 14 per cent of the women surveyed had their first sexual experience before the age of 15, one-third of those reported that this experience was forced. Further, 53 per cent had had their first sexual intercourse between ages 15 and 17. This amounts to a total of two-thirds of girls having their first sexual experience by age 17.

Is this a problem? I don’t hear it much being described as such? What I hear are calls for their pregnancies to be aborted as a sign of ‘compassion’.


Half of the participants in another study of 750 females between 15 and 17 years of age reported having experienced sexual coercion or violence; let me repeat: HALF. It seems that when many men feel sexual urges, they don’t know how to deal with them other than through forced sexual intercourse.

Cases of incest are not uncommon in Jamaica. Police data reveal that the majority of the victims of reported cases of incest are girls 10-14 years old, and the perpetrators of incest are men 35 to 49 years old. Can it be that some fathers are so out of control sexually that ‘when nature rise’ they can do no better than have sex with their daughters?

Have we accepted that we have a problem in Jamaica with how we deal with sexual urges? Or are we in denial? If we don’t name the problem, we will never solve it.

This is not a ‘churchical’ problem. This is a social problem, to be addressed with public policy, for men sexually out of control have destroyed or damaged the lives of generations of young girls, and have generated charges against the public purse amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars (for example, counselling, and combating increases in sexually transmitted diseases).

This would be a useful topic for public policy research which, if an effective prescription can be found, could change the trajectory of Jamaican history.

I am sure that there will be many who will strongly disagree with me, who do not wish the Government to be concerned with what happens in the bedrooms of their private citizens. Their social policy includes contraception and abortion to go along with the ‘freedom’ to have casual sexual relations.

But I wish to appeal to common sense: surely there is value in a faithful, lifelong commitment in marriage, which nurtures and forms balanced personalities? Surely there is value in teaching self-discipline and self-control – including sexual self-control – in our education system?

Surely there is value in retaining incest as a criminal offence?

If so, then we can agree that an ‘anything goes’ mentality is bogus, and must be resisted; and then we can sit down rationally and decide on the values and attitudes on which we wish Jamaican society to be based.

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and development scientist. Send feedback to