Some church groups’ views on the Sexual Offences Act selfish and dangerous

Sunday, February 12, 2017

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Dear Editor,

Something absolutely important is starting to happen in this country and I am afraid that a small faction of Jamaicans and the media, by enabling them, are going to mess everything up.

Finally, a joint select committee of Parliament is once again reviewing the Sexual Offences Act that has been due for review since 2014. The Act has many challenges and gaps that have been repeatedly documented and elaborated on. Here is a snapshot: the law says boys cannot be raped. The law treats vaginal rape different from other forms of sexual violence. Therefore, if a man forcibly rapes a young girl in the mouth, the law says it is not rape. The law also says that if an uncle rapes his nephew, it is not incest. It is only deemed incest if the aunt does it.

These gender-specific and orifice-specific laws need to be improved. All children deserve equal protection. This is not controversial, it’s common sense!

In the context of rampant child sexual abuse, we need laws that ensure that no child is treated as less than, and that punishment for sexual violence against children does not depend on the gender of the child or the rapist.

I fear a small group of Jamaicans — calling themselves church groups, even though they do not represent the large mass of Christian and churchgoing Jamaicans — who want the law to stay as it is because of their own agenda. These "church groups" will do almost anything to achieve their goals, even sacrifice our children’s legal protections. They claim they want a healthy society but do not want laws that ensure the sexual health and innocence of all children are equally protected.

Their views on the Sexual Offences Act are selfish and dangerous. My other fear is that the media, because of economic reasons, will give these groups a platform to mislead and misrepresent facts. The media will turn the business of protecting our children into "a row between the church and civil society". This is equally dangerous. While the media flourish on confrontations and controversies, the children will suffer when the laws do not equally protect them. The media have a responsibility beyond grand headlines to educate the Jamaican public and provide them with sufficient detail about the state of our laws. Their duty is paramount within our democratic society and they do a disservice to the Jamaican people when they frame the conversation around controversy and disagreement.

We need to move towards equal protection of our children and should not let extremists hijack the process. In the end, it is our children who will suffer.

Glenroy Murray

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