Mon | Jun 21, 2021

Break the silence

Published:Sunday | May 6, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Glenda Simms, Contributor

Historically, the generalised attitudes towards incest and other forms of child sexual abuse are rooted in denial and the blaming of the innocent victims. A perusal of the literature on the topic points to a time when clinicians, parents, teachers, police personnel, child-protection agents, social workers and courts were all sceptical of the idea that many adults, including fathers, brothers, uncles and family friends, regularly raped many baby girls and some baby boys.

In fact, the belief that there was not much wrong with having sex with children prevailed in many patriarchal cultures.

Indeed, it was the tenacious intellectual inquiry of feminist psychologists, medical practitioners, sociologists, along with progressive thinkers in related disciplines, who challenged the denial, minimisation and cover-up of incest which were the outcome of the belief system of Freudian and neo-Freudian clinicians. These practitioners adhered to the idea that children have incestuous designs on their parents, and women and girls, in particular, have psyches rooted in the developmental concept of 'penis envy'.

While it has been an uphill battle to challenge the established body of ideas that was formulated and developed by the flag wavers of patriarchal values, we have seen major breakthroughs in our knowledge that when the patriarchal power brokers are allowed to propagate their particular slant on any gendered issue, they deliberately miss the mark by shifting the spotlight from the reality of the social, political and economic injustices that rob women and children of their human rights and dignity.

It is within this mindset that sociologist Diana E.H. Russell, in her book, The Secret Trauma, argued that "instead of fighting male domination in the family and the predatory sexuality and sense of entitlement that males are socialised to have in patriarchal societies, therapists pathologised and depoliticised incest".

This analysis resonates with me as I listen to the local talk shows and read the newspaper columns that have been inspired by our collective outrage at the recently revealed sexual atrocities that reduce the life chances of our children.

The recent disclosure about the horrific incidents of the sexual violence endured by Jamaican children has become more than a nine-day wonder in this 50th anniversary of the nation's Indepen-dence from the colonial masters.

Dr Sandra Knight, who courageously forced the entire society to face the reality of the underbelly of a country in which babies of both sexes are raped and brutalised in their homes and in the broader sphere, has opened more than the proverbial can of worms.

Hopefully, those who now purport to have the right approaches to heal the broken psyche and the traumatised selves of those who were sexually abused as children have moved beyond ideas of the 'seductive child' and the 'collusive mother'.

These two views of incest were in the movie Precious, which challenged the notions of the links between dysfunctional gender relations, poverty and the resilient human spirit.

More female victims

In the present Jamaican context, the discussions on child sexual abuse tend to be gender neutral, and very few analysts focus on the research that has established the fact that boys are less likely to be the victims of incest and sexual abuse than girls.

While it is true that we can identify some boys who have been abused, we must acknowledge that the majority of these are the victims of male criminals and paedophiles. In the same vein, a small number of children (boys, as well as girls) have been known to be abused by women.

It was reported in the April 25, 2012 edition of The Gleaner that the National Council on Drug Abuse sees a link between the sexual abuse of children and the abuse of drugs and alcohol. While these findings have some validity, we cannot assume that the majority of the perpetrators of child sexual abuse are drug and alcohol users. The majority of these criminals are sober and are to be found in classrooms, professional offices, boardrooms and sporting arenas.

They rape children because they are determined to control their wives, children and congregations.

They perpetrate sexual violence because they know they are seldom charged, and in the few cases in which they are brought before the courts in most societies, they might pay a small fine or get off as free as a bird.

Additionally, they are generally supported by their female fans, who believe that these upright men are flawless. In fact, they are defended in the name of God, especially by those who believe that it is the Devil at work in the affairs of men that causes them to deviate from the path of righteousness.

There are also those who dismiss these many incidents of sexual violence against Jamaican children as the actions of mad men and women. In other words, these people must be 'sick'.

Let us stop those who are using the 'sick syndrome' to rationalise evil deeds. Rapists and sexual abusers of children are not sick. They are criminals, and like other criminals, they must be charged, tried and sentenced appropriately and swiftly.

Others from the safe pinnacles of pulpit and podium use a cultural relativity argument to explain the inhumane sexual atrocities perpetuated against Jamaica children. They say these criminal acts are fuelled by cultural beliefs such as the one that says, in order to cure a sexually transmitted infection, a man must have sex with a virgin.

Apparently, for those who operate at a subhuman intellectual level, baby girls are the surest pool of available virgins. When we use cultural explanations, we give the patriarch the power to rationalise his evil acts in the name of something called 'culture'.

Let us remember that it is within these cultural parameters that girls continue to suffer gruesome female genital mutilation, murders called honour killings, forced and early marriages, gender-based violence of all forms, and the restrictions of their human rights at all levels of society.

It is time for the Jamaican society to reconceptualise cultural norms that afford decency and respect to our citizens, generally, and our children, in particular. We can do so by breaking the silence around sexual violence and releasing women and girls from the bondage of the secret trauma of child sexual abuse.

Three courageous victims of child sexual violence have recently told their story to the Observer.

Cultural icons such as Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou and Tyler Perry have bared their souls to the world. We need more Jamaicans -women and men - to tell the truth about childhood sexual abuse and force the society to deal with this systemic barrier to human, social, cultural and economic development.

The time for action is NOW.

We must move beyond sloganeering, hand-wringing and short-term approaches that have very limited effects.

Glenda P. Simms is a gender expert and consultant. Email feedback to and