Historical acceptance of adults having sex with children

BY ANIKA RICHARDS
Associate editor — news/health
richardsai@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, May 09, 2019

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Cultural practices from as far back as biblical times are partly to blame for what university professor Dr Wendel Abel describes as the “lukewarm attitude” in contemporary Jamaican society for older women having sex with underage boys.

In a recent interview with the Jamaica Observer, Dr Abel brought a well-known truth to the fore: that society is less accepting and more vigilant when it comes to men having sex with underage girls than it is in the case of older women and younger boys.

“Culturally, it is accepted... there is a more permissive attitude and society is more likely to turn our eyes when the perpetrator is female and the victim is a male,” Dr Abel said, adding that society will quickly label such incidents “cougar” situations, and move on.

“I also think there is more activism on the part of women; I think this is what has helped to build awareness. Men are less likely to come forward to discuss the issues, possibly because they are less likely to get the support,” he continued.

But Abel, who is head of Community Health and Psychiatry in the Faculty of Medical Sciences at The University of the West Indies, explained that the practice wasn't always wrong from a historical perspective, and suggested that it is at least part of the reason for its acceptance today.

According to Abel, sexual abuse has to be viewed from three different perspectives: religious and moral, legal, and cultural.

“You have to remember, from a biblical point of view, when Sarah couldn't have her baby, they brought an underage girl — Hagar — to Abraham to have sex.

“We have evolved out a society where it was okay for adults to have sex with children,” Dr Abel continued. “But what has evolved over time is that, legally, many countries have moved towards putting an age limit [on consensual sex].”

Tuesday's Observer front-page story highlighted that between 2013 and 2018, 22 women were arrested for having sexual intercourse with boys under 16 years old. For the same period, 129 boys under the age of 16 were victims of that particular assault. The data, which was obtained from the Jamaica Constabulary Force's Statistics and Information Management Unit, didn't speak to the number of incidents perpetrated by men.

The JCF data also showed that between 2013 and 2018, a total of 53 females were arrested under the broad category of sexual assault, of which 33 fell under the offence of sexual intercourse with a victim under the age of 16.

Several adult men who spoke with the Observer and recounted their first time having sex, before they were 16 years old, did not consider their encounters sexual abuse.

Dr Abel explained the possible impact these sexual encounters can have on victims, depending on how the experience is perceived.

“If they perceive it as a traumatic event, and society conveys it as certainly boundary-crossing, then people are going to see it in a different context and people, therefore, are going to see it as a violation and betrayal of trust. But males probably do not see it in that light.

“The reality is that untreated trauma leads to drama, but because males are probably more accepting of it and society — the enabling environment — is more accepting of it, we do not see it as trauma; it is more culturally accepted,” Dr Abel said.

He insisted, however, that the bottom line is that older women having sex with underage boys is against the law.

“But people have spoken to me about it; they are less likely to come forward because, over the years, persons have mentioned to me that when they go to their parents and report it, they don't make much out of it,” he said.

He also said that society's response is also shaped by a number of factors, including the age of the male victim, his physical stature, and whether he appears manly for his age.

“It is such a complicated issue,” Dr Abel said.


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