I wish to convey my deepest sympathies to the five females, including an eight-year-old, who were raped in St James. This dreadful incident has provoked abhorrence, rage and protest and could lead to vigilantism. It could be used, however, to draw attention and facilitate changes to the systematically entrenched ways in which we treat the issue of sexual violence.
The Sexual Offences Act 2009 treats women as powerless and the subject of alpha males. It is an injustice to all Jamaicans, especially to those who are victims of unwanted sexual contact. Seemingly, far too often, we blame females into thinking they somehow did or wore something to incite the abuse to their bodies.
Furthermore, the gender inequities in the Sexual Offences Act prevent a male who has been sexually violated by a woman or man to receive equal justice. Additionally, a man who has anal intercourse with a female without her consent would receive a much lesser sentence than he would if he had coercive "vaginal sex" with her.
Currently, the legal definition of rape in Jamaica provides only for the unwanted penetration of a vagina by a penis. In this regard, the Act runs in contravention of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms as Section 13 (3)(g) says we all have "the right to equality before the law". It is regrettable that in this day and age our legislators have enshrined stereotypes about sexual violence, sex and gender with this piece of legislation. The definition of sexual intercourse needs to be expanded so that the law will recognise rape in the cases of (1) the rape of men and (2) coercive oral and anal intercourse. In the 2012 Boxill survey on perceptions and attitudes to same-sex relationships, almost nine in every 10 Jamaican believes someone who has had non-consensual anal sex with a woman should receive the same punishment as someone who had non-consensual vaginal sex with a woman.
Therefore, legislators should not hide behind concerns of morality as a deterrent to the provision of equality for all its citizens. Legislators should recognise that laws often perpetuate, reinforce and drive social mores and often perpetuate the marginalisation of various groupings in our society. This does more harm than good; even Vision 2030 articulated concerns about how we treat the issue of sexual violence.
As we continue to celebrate our 50th year of Independence, should we not be seeking equality for all Jamaicans so that we can make this a place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business? Let us be on the right side of history and balance the scale of justice by doing right by all our people, not just some. For we are indeed, "Out of Many, One People"!
Executive Director, J-FLAG