LESS than half of the over 6,500 rape cases that were reported in the last 10 years have been 'cleared up', officials have said.
According to data provided by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (Statin) and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), a total of 6,573 acts of rape were reported between 2011 and 2020. Of that number, only 3,254 have been cleared up.
Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Radcliffe Gordon, crime officer at the Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA), explained that the term 'cleared up' means that charges have been levied against accused persons.
“There are other ways it can be cleared, but predominantly it's when charges are laid. If the accuser is deceased and a witness comes forward and positively identifies the person who has made the offence, it can be cleared in that way — but that is very rare; it's really when the charges are laid,” Gordon told the Jamaica Observer.
The year 2012 saw the most reports of rape within the period, with 948. However, only 40 per cent of those cases have been cleared up. Behind that year, 2011 had 845 reported cases with only 45 per cent cleared up.
The most cases have been cleared up in a year was 2013 with 390. But that year there were 814 reported cases.
The JCF's Statistics and Information Management Unit said that, as of November 30 this year, 370 rape cases were reported and 287 were cleared up.
Moreover, when compared to the same period last year, there has been a 25 per cent decline in rape.
Attorney-at-law Bert Samuels told the Sunday Observer that rape cases are not prioritised in Jamaica.
“The backlog in cases is a critical issue for the dispensation of justice, and there has been a COVID issue [added] now. Rape trials are normally tried with a jury and there are no jury trials that have taken place in Jamaica from the last two years because of COVID, and the courtrooms are not retrofitted to facilitate social distancing in the jury box and in the courtroom, so here it is now that we have a new delay factor — that is COVID not allowing jury trials,” he said.
Samuels also said there is usually difficulty in getting accused individuals tried before a court for rape.
“In most rape cases, it is one person's word against the other. In other words, there are other crimes in which there is a trail left behind in the form of a death, someone loses property, or a wounding where you can see the wound. In a lot of rape cases there is no physical evidence to prove the case or to prove it for the complainant, or to prove it for the defendant, if it is denial,” Samuels explained.
“Most times, the complainant is the only witness that can prove her case. In a few cases there are times when scientific evidence is used in the defence which excludes the accused.”
An example of such is if semen is left behind and the accused is tested. If the accused isn't guilty of the crime, he is thereby excluded by DNA evidence.
Samuels added that before a jury there is an “issue” where the standard of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt.
“It is Jane's word against John's. This creates some difficulty for the prosecution to prove its case. And because it's one person's word against another, the law book says it is an accusation easy to make but sometimes difficult to disprove. Then you have the situation where you have hate rape, where the person had a relationship with the person before, and jurors may take the view that this is a relationship gone bad and they are hesitant in convicting. So, many factors come to light.”
Convictions are also hampered, resulting in guilty men walking free when assaulted women of a “tender age” have to take the stand to testify.
“They can't deliver themselves well in court, and the trauma attendant on going through that weighs heavily on a person's ability to tell their side of the story.”
Meanwhile, Dr Adella Campbell, associate professor and dean of the College of Health Sciences at University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech), pointed to the fact that the statistics only reflect those cases that have actually been reported.
“There are times when health-care workers manage the care of rape victims prior to the offence being reported to the authorities. Victims often show up at health institutions — both primary and secondary care — for treatment. A key point to note, however, is that the institutions have protocols for reporting sexual offences of this nature to the relevant authorities as soon as they visit the health facilities.”
Campbell underscored that it is not uncommon to encounter situations in which victims of sexual offences, such as rape, are reluctant to have the matter reported to the relevant authorities such as the police, Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), and CISOCA.
“This reluctance is sometimes due to societal attitude. For example, the stigma attached to rape, fear of the manner in which the police and criminal justice system generally addresses the cases involving rape (for example victims may feel humiliated as well as feel intimidated to face the offender in court), and there is also the influence of religious culture, inter alia,” she said.
Samuels supported Campbell's point that victims are often overcome by fear. He told the Sunday Observer that this sometimes extends to the victims' families.
“A number of cases do not come to the court because the complainant is not prepared to go through a second trauma. In my own experience there is a high rate of decline to continue with prosecutions — people just say they can't bother. They don't turn up at the ID parade, they don't want to see the assailant, they just don't want to see the person ever in life again. It's too traumatic and, therefore, there is a high incidence of not wanting to go forward,” he explained.
He said there are also cases in which the complainant has taken a long time to come forward.
“They give the excuse that they were traumatised or they were threatened or they were just generally not mentally prepared to go through the process of a trial. And sometimes women will say 'I can't be bothered with it. To remember the incident, is in itself, a trauma and I will just move on with my life.' That's a very bad thing to do, because it encourages wrongdoing,” he warned.
Campbell stated, however, that on the part of health-care workers, protocols are in place in the health system, generally, to maintain the privacy of victims of rape while ensuring that the matter is reported to the relevant authorities.
“Health-care providers are very aware of the health consequences of sexual offences on victims and as such they adopt all necessary measures to minimise these effects. Ripple effects of rape on the victims may include physical injuries, sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and mental trauma (post-trauma stress disorder).
“Health-care workers are equipped to treat with, and minimise these effects while maintaining the privacy of the victim.”