Indignation without solution
THERE'S SOMETHING MORE than rotten in our land, something ugly and nasty, something treasonous, if you define treason as bringing shame to the nation, lowering one and all because of deviant behaviour. The dreadful, disturbing situation in Irwin Point, Montego Bay, where five females including an eight-year-old girl were subjected to rape, has upset even the most hardened cynic. All week, the words have begun resounding: "How did we get to this? What is going on?"
Relatives overseas have called home seeking a clue to what has brought on these acts of cruelty. The perpetrators are said to be young men. According to word from the community, it is alleged that they staked out the house where the women and girls lived and stalked them like prey. When the time was right, according to their evil schedule, they pounced. The community is dumbstruck. How could that happen? It is not as if the community was on the lower end of society, where law and order are usually missing. This is a community of home-owners, some of them returnees from cold climates who have come back to enjoy the land they call home.
The nasty four-letter word - rape - was not known in the days when, as an earlier generation, they went off to seek advancement. This country is supposed to merit all their efforts spent working in "wind and foul weather" in far less salubrious environments. What happened over recent days is the last thing they or anyone else would expect. According to a community source, our returnees have come to realise that the beauty of their beloved homeland has been severely compromised by indiscipline and lack of vision.
NEXT TO THE HOUSE in which the ill-fated females live was an open lot, thick with bush, providing a shelter to would-be invaders. It is from that vantage point, we are told, that the intruders "scoped out" their eventual prey. In the many expressions of puzzlement, uttered since the attack, we've heard: "If only" there were regulations which required that property owners keep their empty lots cleared to avoid being used for cover by intruders.
"If only the community had known that the females were at risk. "If only, if only". It is the assault of the eight-year-old which tears at people's hearts the most. "What can help that child to return to full health?" it was asked. "It is going to take a lot of counselling and care to heal her". "She is scarred for life". These comments are made as if no better is expected.
This is not the first time that a young life has been damaged in this way. Sexual abuse of children is not rare, as we are now coming to find out. CISOCA, the unit of the Jamaica Constabulary Force which has been pursuing justice for sexually damaged children and adults, has been unearthing evidence which shows that we have nothing to be complacent about. Although everybody talks and talks and talks, we're a long way from solution. The big question surfaces over and over again "What next?...What are we going to do?...We can't gwaan so".
I was somewhat depressed yesterday to hear a diaspora member, a staunch defender of Jamaica abroad, saying that the latest events have put a dent in his spirit. Although he will never give up flying the flag of home, he had to admit that the rape incident left him somewhat down-hearted. "You've got to do something...but what SOMETHING?" The answer is blowing in more than the wind.
SUGGESTIONS for dealing with the problem are based mainly in severe punishment. There have been calls to bring back the cat-o-nine, the dreaded whip with metallic reinforcement on the "tails" which could flay skin from bone. Another recommendation: "A good thrashing is what those criminals deserve". We've heard graphic tales of the "good old days" when convicted felons were beaten coming in (to prison) and beaten going out. To persons of a past generation, this was the ideal solution. "Those who felt the lash walked the straight and narrow path thereafter".
Others were ready to vote for the reinstatement of the death penalty. "Restore the gallows which has been lying idle all too long". "Only that will help". One defender of this solution was confident that it would eliminate all those deviants now plaguing the society. "You'd be surprised how others would fall in line". Arguments in favour of human rights and more humane treatment were shouted down. "If they have no compassion for anyone else, why should we give them any?"
We've not found a way to teach our males how to show respect for their counterpart gender. There are still too many men who claim territorial rights to women's bodies. Then, there is the belief still strong in certain quarters that sexually transmitted diseases in men can be cured by intercourse with a virgin. This inevitably means a female of very young years. No one sees this as rape.
The deck is stacked against rape victims when it is so easy to impugn their character by lies. The society accepts easily doubts cast on the character of complainants in court cases. The truth comes out sometimes, but far more often than we imagine, raped women are not always seen as victims. "They asked for it" ,"You see how they dress?" We pride ourselves on the advancement of women in this country, but it may surprise us that we still have a long way to go to true equality. The male perpetrator of rape is hardly, if ever, stigmatised. It is the women who are branded for life. So, what now?
THE OTHER ugly story of the week is the killing of a man who did nothing except be stepfather to an individual whom a mob went looking for on the false premise that he had sexually molested two boys. Although there was no evidence to prove this and with the man they sought being absent, the mob killed the stepfather and set fire to his house.
To misquote Mr Shakespeare: "Conscience has fled to brutish beasts and men have lost their reason".