The brutal rape in Irwin, St James, of five females, including three children, has left the country stunned and looking for answers. As the news spread and the anger mounted, the government, the Opposition Party and civil society groups met and moved quickly to act. The combined effort resulted in protests being mounted in Kingston, Montego Bay and Mandeville last Friday. Women, men and children dressed in black stood and marched in solidarity with the Irwin rape victims as well as others who had suffered the same fate. The day was dubbed "Black Friday", and rightly so.
There is no doubt that there is serious cause for concern. The rape of women and children has been growing steadily over the last several years. In fact, the fastest-growing crimes in Jamaica at the moment are rape and incest. Statistics show that the cases of sexual abuse have increased exponentially since 2007, moving from 121 cases in that year to 2,671 reported cases in 2011. And experts agree that the figure is actually much higher since there is an estimated high percentage of under-reporting.
Not only are rape and incest increasing, but the ages of the victims keep getting lower and lower. Earlier this year, Dr Sandra Knight of the Bustamante Hospital for Children shared some of the horrifying stories with the nation of cases presented to her at that institution. Some of the cases involved babies as young as 18 months old who had been sexually assaulted and otherwise physically abused.
As the sexual crimes against women and children by heterosexuals escalate, so too are those being committed by homosexuals. The brutality of the crimes is staggering. One of the worst cases I have seen involved a nine-month old baby boy who was buggered and killed. At his funeral, I observed that the coffin was so tiny that the church appeared to have swallowed it up.
Then there was seven-year-old Shaneika Anderson, lured by a stranger with the prospect of getting a patty to eat. Her naked body was found a day or two later downtown Kingston. The little girl had been savagely raped and murdered.
My own work has brought me face to face with some of the smallest victims of rape. One case involved a six-year-old raped by a
27-year-old man who was her neighbour. The little girl had to be hospitalised and placed in intense counselling after that. With DNA evidence from both the victim and the accused, it seemed certain that the perpetrator would be convicted. That was not to be. After weeks and months of hearings, delays and postponements in the Half-Way-Tree Court, the accused was given bail. He returned to his house next door to the victim, and I was told that when the little girl saw him she ran away screaming. In the process, she urinated all over herself. After years of inexcusable legal and judicial humbugs and technicalities, the man is now walking scot-free.
As unacceptable, unjustified and illegal as vigilantism may be, let us understand one thing. Jamaicans are taking the law into their own hands because they perceive the justice system to be unjust and ineffective, and there are tons of cases to support that view. Given the current deteriorating crime conditions, the country's law enforcement and judicial systems must now clearly be put under the spotlight.
But the truth is that it is not just the justice system alone that needs urgent thought and assessment. As a society, all of us are guilty of aiding and abetting, whether through commission or omission, the moral decay of the country in general, and the lucrative, "in-your-face" sale of sex that has become a way of life in Jamaica.
Nobody should be surprised at the levels of sexual violence in the society when one considers the steady diet of sex to which children and young people are exposed. In fact, we are at the point now of glorifying sexual lewdness, and you just have to switch on the television or listen to the radio to see and hear the levels of moral degradation and sexual explicitness that are being offered up to the public 24/7.
And because some of us have made money, there are big companies that have jumped on to the "sex-for-sale" omnibus. I hear that at some of those highly and heavily sponsored "wet and wild" sessions, live sex is served up in different flavours and varieties, and yet we continue to ask, "How come so much sexual violence?"
If we are serious about putting an end to the scourge of sexual abuse, not only must all of us be on the same page about the causes, all of us must be prepared to be a part of the collective solution - "uptown" and "downtown", "big man" and "little man" - government and civil society - all of us.