A “public health emergency” is how several top-flight prosecutors have described the influx of sexual offence cases with young females as victims presenting before the island's courts, particularly rural circuits.
“We have been seeing a lot of sex cases; prosecutors are tired of it, it is terrible. It is a public health emergency. It is ridiculous,” one prosecutor told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.
As the chilling details emerge in the various halls of justice, the prosecutors say a number of factors have surfaced which are accounting for the situation which they are describing as a “pandemic” in its own right.
“A lot of our girls are being objectified; what we are seeing is that a number of mothers are pimping out their daughters for economic gain; girls are being sexualised,” one prosecutor shared.
Perpetrators range from fathers, boyfriends, family friends, and relatives to community residents including taxi and bus drivers. Children who become victims are often those left unsupervised for extended periods, those whose parents lack the necessary skills, and who are from impoverished backgrounds.
In one particularly stomach-churning case which closed last month, the account of an 18-year-old girl, who was assaulted on numerous occasions by her 48-year-old father starting in 2019 when she first went to live with him following the death of her mother, stunned a Corporate Area court. In the end, the father of six, who pleaded guilty early in the case, was sentenced to 16 years and four months behind bars for four counts of incest each, 12 years and eight months for three counts of grievous sexual assault each, and two years and three months for one count of indecent assault. His sentences will run concurrently.
In one instance the young girl detailed how her father performed oral sex on her and used his fingers to assault her, claiming he was stretching her before taking her virginity.
St Thomas, St Mary, St Catherine, and Westmoreland, the Observer was told, are the parishes with the most red flags.
In figures shared with this newspaper, of the 98 matters for the month of February alone, 57 cases were sexual offences and 16 were instances of sex with a person under 16 years of age.
One particularly disturbing case for which prosecutors have urged a jury trial involves the mother and stepfather of a minor who were charged with living off the earnings of prostitution, in this instance using the young girl.
On the St Mary Circuit there were 36 sex cases out of the total 59 Circuit Court cases. This included 20 rape cases, one case of attempted rape, 10 cases of sexual intercourse with a person under 16 years, two cases of buggery, two cases of incest, and one case of sexual touching.
In St Elizabeth, 39 out of the total 103 matters are cases of rape and sex with persons under the age of 16.
Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn, QC, who has been representing the Crown on the Westmoreland Circuit over the past few weeks, said, “Some of the cases I saw were very, very disturbing. Once upon a time it took a village to raise a child, now what seems to be happening in certain communities is that the village is facilitating and accommodating the sexual abuse of our minors. It is what I would call wilful blindness, very poor parenting, and lack of supervision.
“It is very, very tragic what we have been seeing in the courts. One common feature is 90 per cent of the mothers of the complainants, they don't work, and 90 per cent of the times — especially with the very young children — they are not being properly supervised. The children are just left to anybody. You see it in your files, where sometimes you have everybody sleeping in one room, sometimes in one bed. They are seeing their mother and father having sex, so the children are highly sexualised,” she pointed out.
“There needs to be a whole social orientation in terms of the value system. Somewhere along the line a lot of these people, especially the socially disadvantaged, have unwittingly been participants to objectifying themselves. There needs to be a tripling of the amount of social workers to deal with these situations,” Llewellyn said.
The prosecutors have also encouraged the use of the Child Diversion Programme, where both the offenders and complainants in sex cases are themselves children.
The veteran prosecutors are, in the meantime, calling for a change in what they say are the negative and cavalier attitudes towards young females who are being reported as 'missing', noting that it is not appropriate to label girls who are reported lost as “bad” and dismiss them as promiscuous and, as such, deserving of abuse.
The behaviours by these girls, they say, should be investigated, as they are, in the majority of instances, being fuelled by underlying conditions such as childhood sexual abuse, which often results in the girls spiralling into patterns of sexually promiscuous behaviour, making them prime candidates for those seeking to take advantage of them.
The Observer was told that the situation is such that Chief Justice Bryan Sykes, who has been adjudicating matters on the rural circuit in recent months, is himself concerned.
In a recent court matter involving men from a Westmoreland community who were, among other things, accused of raping women at gunpoint, lawyers detailed the difficulty in getting individuals to testify against their perpetrators because of sheer terror.
“Houses literally disappear,” one individual told the Observer, referencing instances in which victims, slated to testify, loaded their dwellings onto vehicles purposed for those kinds of activities and fled, leaving no forwarding addresses. Westmoreland is known for mobile home-type dwellings, which are built on legs enabling them to be moved.