Mom turning in her grave
Daughter of convicted paedophile says Appeal Court's decision to reduce his sentence a slap in the face of every abused childMonday, May 31, 2021
BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
A slap in the face of every abused child is how the daughter of a man who sexually violated her when she was a teenager has described the Appeal Court's decision to reduce his life sentence for incest to 15 years.
Shaken by the judgement handed down two Fridays ago, the victim also said her mother must now be turning in her grave, given the determination she displayed in having the man face the court.
The Clarendon man, Devon Ricketts, was in 2015 sentenced to life at hard labour for incest with the then teenaged Latesha, who ironically was the child of one of his twin stepdaughters, both of whom he had impregnated years before.
“I want to get justice for every other little girl. I was raped by my dad when I was about 13. I am the product of a rape because my dad, who was my grandmother's common-law husband, raped her two last children, who would have been twins. He raped both of them and they both had daughters in September of 1997, 15 days apart to be exact. I was born on the 10th and my sister was born on the 25th,” Latesha, who is now 23 years old, told the Jamaica Observer last week.
She said after her father was sentenced in 2015 she had started feeling safe for the first time in years, having experienced a tumultuous childhood. But that sense of security was shattered last Tuesday when she read the Observer's report of his sentence reduction as she was unaware that he had appealed the sentence.
“My mom had gone overseas, so she sent me to him. I never met him before. When I met him, he brought me to his mother's house, then he took me from his mother's house and brought me to his brother's house, then he came and caused another argument and took me to his hut to live with him on his farm. That's when he made his first attempt,” she said, noting that Ricketts was 54 years of age at the time.
Among the things grating on the young woman's nerves is the fact that Ricketts was never tried for the offence against her aunt who, she said, is fearful of confronting him in court unlike her twin (Latesha's mother now deceased), who pursued the matter resulting in his being convicted of two counts of carnal abuse and being sentenced to four years' imprisonment in her case.
He was serving that sentence when he was being tried for the offences against his daughter.
The Appeal Court, in the judgement handed down on May 21, upheld Ricketts's conviction, but in slashing the sentence pointed out that, while section 7(4) of the Sexual Offences Act stipulates that the maximum sentence for incest is imprisonment for life, “the judge did not specifically indicate any reason for starting at the maximum sentence” and had therefore erred in this regard.
The court went further to point out that “although his behaviour is considered egregious and abhorrent, it is possible to imagine worse scenarios”. According to the court ruling, “his case is, therefore, not the worst of the worst” and does not deserve a starting point of life imprisonment. It said, “An appropriate starting point would be 12 years.”
But the judgement has left Latesha in disbelief.
“Not only has the justice system failed me, but other people looking on. The justice system failed them too because if you are going to tell me that a man can rape his stepchildren and turn around and look in his own daughter's face every single night and do the same thing, and you are telling me that is not a worst-case scenario?
“So I keep wondering what would be a worst-case scenario; is it that you wanted me to die and then it would have been the worst of the worst?” she asked.
“From last night I have been checking how I can get asylum elsewhere, because if he is going to come out I need to evacuate this place, because my life is on the line. I am really upset because it just doesn't make any sense, and this is the Jamaica that we tell people to raise families and do business in?
“We don't want to raise families in a Jamaica where our children are not protected. Children are the future, and if we cannot protect the future then why are we even making plans for the future?” she said.
“I can't believe this is what my mom fought for. She never got her chance to speak up and when she finally did — I am sure she must have been turning in her grave — to see that she had to relive her situation and stand in court and speak about it, only for this man to walk.
“Her twin sister didn't come forward because she has been living in fear up to this day. The entire community is afraid of him. I am not lying. He is sick,” Latesha stated.
She recalls well how her father broke the news of his intentions towards her following a visit from a relative of his.
“He waited until after his [relative] left and he said, 'Yuh haffi go do everything, all that weh yuh a think to.' He went on to say he has to stop buying sex, and in order for me to go to school he has to get the sex from me. So in that scenario now, I would be the prostitute... and so that was the start of a lot of traumatic experiences. Almost every night he was having sex with me to the point that when I went to the doctor and they did the tests, at 13 years of age they said my womb had shifted, and I had also contracted something from him,” she told the Observer.
When the abuse reached a tipping point, she confided in a guidance counsellor at her school, despite his threat to kill her if she told anyone what he was doing. He repeated the threat, even prior to being sentenced.
“I told the court, his exact words were, 'Mi haffi kill yuh.'
“He also sent a message with a family member who went to visit him that mi need to come get him outta prison because a me put him there,” she claimed.
Now, with the knowledge that in less than 10 years her tormentor will be released from prison, Latesha said she has regressed to her younger years which she spent “in survival mode”.
“In 2015 I felt safe because I felt that he got what he deserved, and then I also felt that I was safe because I was never going to see this man again; he would rot. But [the new sentence] reminds me that my life is on the line.
“I am just going to have to find asylum and start fresh with my son, like this never happened. I mean, you are always going to remember, but a fresh start out of the chaos,” she told the Observer.
“I feel like I have been failed, and not only myself, but every other little girl and boy has been failed because this is the place where we get up and say everyday we want it to be the place of choice to live and raise families, that's our 2030 vision. We have nine more years and this is absolutely not it,” Latesha stated.
While her hope in the country of her birth has been crushed, the young woman, who managed to graduate high school with seven subjects and has even authored a book sharing her experiences, still has dreams she wants to fulfil and wants to help children in similar situations.
“I definitely want to own a restaurant,” she said. “I really love to cook, and I want to somehow create an organisation to help young girls like myself. I don't think we are doing enough. We talk about it, but a lot of talk and no action does not make sense, because when these children go through abuse they have to go back to some of the same family members and sometimes they relive it.”
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