Old men and 'young flesh'
Ian Boyne, Contributor
We are a society that routinely gets alarmed over certain issues, huffing, puffing and expressing consternation, but after the ritual of media obsession we go back to business as usual, never learning one earthly thing. Our latest outrage is the issue of child sexual abuse and older men seeking 'young flesh'.
The most incisive and poignant commentary given on this issue was supplied by Peter Espeut in his column two Fridays ago. Espeut was at his analytical best. "Self-discipline in athletics and academics is prized in Jamaica; but discipline in sexual matters is not as highly valued, and this, it seems to me, is the root of the problem," he opined.
"Our cultural motto is 'if it feels good, do it, do it till you're satisfied' ('whatever it is', as the disco song says.) So a father feels like having sex with his 15-year-old daughter and he does it until he feels satisfied, "even if it is called incest". "And if a 55-year-old man feels like having a 14-year-old girl tonight, 'do it till you're satisfied,' even if that is called carnal abuse."
Of course, Peter is not too au fait with the dancehall songs, so he could not quote some choice indigenous expressions. But it's the same message: Indulge yourself, obey your thirst (whatever your thirst is), get it on, 'lick shot' (not violently), if loving that sexy 15-year-old is wrong, you don't want to be right.
I keep shaking my head at this society's utter inability to connect the dots, to make the connection between certain cultural values and behaviours and certain outcomes. And our media commentators, interviewers and talk-show hosts keep asking rudimentary, legalistic, instrumental questions without getting to the heart of the issues. I suggest they start with Espeut's column before they interview anyone else or say anything else.
First, let us separate the issue of the sexual abuse of 18-month-olds, four-year-olds, 10-year-olds and pubescent girls or teenagers. Obviously, a man who has sex with a baby is at a different level of perversion than one who has sex with a 15-year-old. Both acts are reprehensible, illegal and disgusting to most of us, to be sure.
And while you, in your righteous indignation, might be even outraged at my making a distinction between any kind of sexual abuse (which is necessarily the case in law with an underage girl), in your heart of hearts you know there must be something peculiarly sick about a person raping an 18-month-old and another supposedly having 'consensual' sex with a 15-year-old whom he is sending to school and buying KFC, with extras for Mummy.
Paedophiles must be punished severely, but attempts should also be made to rehabilitate them. I know many will say, 'Hang them! Castrate them! Turn them upside down for days in Half-Way Tree square!' But science is now throwing light on certain behaviours which we simply criminalise. Those who can be rescued through rehabilitation, we should try to save (and that rehabilitation should be in addition to, and along with, not as a substitute for, their incarceration.)
But aside from the indisputably pathological cases, there are other cases of child abuse which are more cultural and attitudinal. A society in which 80 per cent of our children are born outside a home with a formal commitment between parents is bound to have serious sociological consequences. Self-control and self-mastery are important concepts to be inculcated from early, but with our dysfunctional family structures, there is little opportunity to learn those values.
"There is much militating against the young learning sexual self-control," Peter Espeut said in his column. "We live in a highly sexualised society where popular music and videos promote hedonism and casual sex. Teenage pregnancy, gang rape and lesbian attacks at high schools are not out of context."
I can't resist quoting Espeut further: "Calling for prudish behaviour, raising the age of consent, and railing against sexual offenders will not change anything." He is absolutely right. This society needs a fundamental overhaul in values and attitudes. I have been preaching that incessantly for years.
Let me quote myself now. After Bruce Golding won the election in September 2007, I wrote a column that same month ('A challenge to Golding') in which I said: "We have a brand new Government but the same old Jamaica ... . Carnal abuse is still high ... ." I praised Golding for some commendable things he was saying about structural and economic reforms, but wrote: "There is another crucial step the prime minister needs to take on to complete his revolutionary project. Without this step, his revolution will lack a critical component for success. The prime minister needs to centrepiece the whole issue of values and attitudes." I praised Golding for his Budget speech in 2007 where he spoke of "the vicious manifestations of this social decay facing us: the unwanted pregnancies, the rape and carnal abuse, the abuse of our women and children." Golding said the right words - but went on to scale down the Values and Attitudes programnme which he renamed National Transformation Programme.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, before him, said
the right words, too, but ended up marginalising what was a resuscitated
but feckless programme. Portia, back in 2006, had the right words in a
speech delivered in Child Month that
"We need to understand that with all
the talk about the need to increase foreign investments and production,
lower interest rates, reduce the debt and maintain a competitive
exchange rate, if we don't pay attention to the quality of our family
life and structure, any gains made in the macroeconomy will be wiped
out." Great words. Great truth.
than 100 days after the election, no indication has been given of a
revitalisation of a national values and attitudes programme, and
absolutely no initiative towards a resocialisation programme - which she
spoke a lot about during her first tenure as prime minister. Successive
governments have only given lip service to our social and cultural
crisis, while failing to do anything significant by putting money where
their rhetoric is.
Let's stop tinkering. Let's not
just talk in terms of strengthened laws and institutions. Yes, that must
be done. But as Professor Maureen Samms-Vaughan said on 'All Angles'
last Wednesday, let us not just talk after the fact. Let's think
preventative strategies. In her GraceKennedy Foundation lecture of 2006
('Children Caught in the Crossfire'), she said: "Jamaican
children who live in less stable, common-law and visiting unions, and
those in single-parent homes or with a biological or surrogate parent,
have more delinquent behaviours ... ." These are the people
who grow up to become molesters and carnal
Professor Samms-Vaughan said her research
indicated that children from father-absent homes "manifest a
number of internalising and externalising problem behaviours, including
... early initiation of sexual activity and teen pregnancy, as well as
low self-esteem." It is low self-esteem which lures many young
girls into the arms of older men. They never had a loving father
figure. So they crave it from some sex-obsessed 'sugar daddies' or just
some other 'wutliss' man who has nothing else but 'romance', sweet words
and sex to offer.
letter in last week's Sunday Gleaner, 'Paedophilia
isn't that simple', Annette Johnson says Espeut was oversimplifying the
issues. It's not just a matter of a lack of self-control. There are some
men who are attracted to children and young girls because they have a
need to dominate and have an insatiable urge to have power over their
sex object. These people should be locked away.
agree. But I would bet Annette Johnson there are far more men attracted
to and having sex with 15- and 16-year-olds than there are men having
sex with 10-year-old children. And there are more mothers willing to
pimp their 15-year-old daughters than they would their
They remain quiet and don't bawl out
to lock up their men when they do discover they might be molesting their
eight- and 10-year-olds because they don't want to cut down their
feeding tree, as it were, but they would be less reluctant to turn a
blind eye to their sexy 15-year-old daughters satisfying the fantasies
of older men who can help pay the rent, school fees and help make ends
We have a society where we will sell our souls
and bodies for money. We sell votes, that most prized of possessions in a
democracy. We have many people in this culture who think there is
nothing that is not saleable. This is at the heart of many of our
problems. It's not a matter of having more draconian laws and ensuring
that our child welfare and security institutions work
I have been very fascinated by the title of a
book I came across recently: Bad Men Do What Good Men
Dream. The subtitle is A Forensic Psychiatrist
Illuminates the Darker Side of Human Behavior. Hey, it's not
just the men who actually have sex with 14- and 15-year-olds who find
them attractive and sexy. Other men dream of having sex with them, but
restrain themselves through socialisation or fear of the
If we don't have a society which inculcates the
value of self-control, self-mastery, as the Stoics used to call it, or
self-regulation as it is called in the psychological literature, you
will continue to have alarming cases of child sexual abuse. (I can tell
you there are many men, even so-called 'respectable' men, who don't
consider some of these 15-year-olds walking around as children. And some
certainly don't dress and act like children (which is no excuse for
you, pervert!) There is a lot of hypocrisy on this issue. Many older men
think nothing wrong in having sex with teenagers once they 'don't look
We find it cute to see them 'skin
out' and 'bruk out' to dancehall rhythms, and the dancehall deejays
themselves boast of the delights of having underage girls and yet
defenders of the dancehall don't decry that, but when everyone is
howling about child sexual abuse, they join the chorus of condemnation.
All I am saying is, we nuh ready fi deal wid dis yet!