Just last Sunday, sitting on a cool verandah here in Jamaica, a good friend told me a story and all week I have had to think hard about my reaction to it. I have had to bow my head and feel thoroughly ashamed with myself. Over and over again I have been asking – why did laughter escape my mouth? There was nothing funny about the story.
My friend works at a school in an inner-city community in Jamaica and recently he had to fire one of the security guards. The security guard had done something unacceptable. And when asked about this unacceptable thing, the security guard had explained himself in these words: ‘Well, the little girl did show me a thing so mi just EDGE it a little.’ I was laughing of course at his language, this depiction of an act that wasn’t quite intercourse, but just the ‘edge’ of it. Still, it doesn’t matter. Paedophilia in Jamaica is no laughing matter. And we must ask, had the gender of the child been different, would the security guard have had the nerve to explain himself? Would he have really said, ‘Well sar, the lickle bwoy did just show mi a ting, suh mi just edge it a little.’ And would anyone have laughed at such a situation?
What is apparent is that every day in Jamaica our girls live on a dangerous edge.
I say it again: paedophilia is no laughing matter, but in Jamaica there is much greater concern for a paedophilia that rarely occurs than there is for the kind that happens frequently. The sight of a pregnant 12 or 13 year old girl is just as likely to have people frowning at the child, slut-shaming her and outright blaming her (‘She too force ripe!’ ‘Look pon lickle she a run down big man!’ ‘ Before she study har book instead o study man!’) rather than the fully grown and supposedly responsible man who decided to have his way with her.
By contrast, if a boy of a similar age walked around showing the evidence of his buggery, it would evoke far more sympathy and outrage, and cause a witch hunt for the wicked man who had done the deed.
One of the great hurdles in confronting paedophilia in Jamaica is that it isn’t recognized for what it is – overwhelmingly a heterosexual crime. And this despite what official statistics will tell us. Now, make no mistake, the crime happens to both boys and girls, but it would seem that as a country we are far more interested in protecting our boys than protecting our girls.
I was having an online argument with an old friend a year ago and she expressed the same old anxieties that many Jamaicans have about gay people gaining more rights in the society. She finally, and predictably, pulled for the emotionally manipulative paedophilia card. It was her little boy, she confessed. She worried about him. Would he be safe in a country where gay men had rights. Now I should tell you that my friend had a little girl as well, but clearly she was comfortable living in a society where it was this girl child who was statistically far more likely to be molested and raped. I challenged her about this and I pointed her to a fact she had obviously never considered, that the gay lobby she so despised was as much against paedophilia as she was – that this was common ground that they shared, and that those she perceived as her enemies would almost certainly stand alongside her in supporting more strident laws that targeted sexual predators in Jamaica.
Alas, my friend ended the argument right then and there. She did not want to find common ground with these gay people who repulsed her, and if gay people did not in fact support paedophilia, or were not paedophiles themselves, then how could she maintain her hatred? It was all too inconvenient – the truth.
This week the Jamaica Observer was at it again. They carried a controversial story about a supposed male jogger being gang raped in Jamaica. The story came with no byline, no sources, and no kind of verification. Joggers from the community who were out the same morning have subsequently claimed to have not seen anything. Even more intriguing is another story being told by some wary residents in Norbrook and Cherry Gardens who say that the story sounds familiar. They too have had previous encounters with a man who used to tie himself naked to a light post and have joggers find him there in the mornings at which point he would give them this harrowing story of being raped and left like that. He would be clothed and given money. The early morning joggers in Norbrook and Cherry Gardens only got suspicious when this same man was being raped and left naked almost once a month, always on a new street corner. He moved from street to street doing this stunt, even ending up in New Kingston, trying to find new people to con with his hardluck story. In Jamaica we get used to such stunts and almost congratulate these con artists for their ingenuity.
So now this strangely familiar story appears again in the front page of the Observer – supposedly happening not in Norbrook or Cherry Gardens but all the way at the foot of Red Hills. Once again, a male jogger found tied up and naked, claiming to have been raped. I don’t know what to make of it. If the incident actually occurred, it is tragic, but forgive me if I think it is even more tragic the misogyny implicit in the story as it was reported. For the basic point of the story was this – that we have suddenly come to a new low – that it was kind of bad, but really not all that bad when women were being routinely gang raped. But for a man to experience what so many women have experienced! Ooooh! OOOOOHHH!!! This is finally outrageous and has to stop NOW!
Some of my female friends dared to hope that the story would have shone a spotlight on their own precarious situations. My friend Nicole tried to explain to some of her male friends, ‘Well, you know that way that you flinched when you read the story? The way you instinctively covered up your ass in protection? Well that’s how most of us women feel in Jamaica every day. Every day when we have to come out of our cars and open our gates, we feel that exact terror. Every evening when we walk on a street that’s not well lit, or every night when we pass the particularly dark shade of a tree…that’s how we feel! That’s how vulnerable we are!’
But for women to hope for some level of empathy was naïve. Rape, like paedophilia is a crime that is overwhelmingly perpetrated on females, but the outrage in Jamaica would give you little or no indication of this fact.
We may as well write to Boko Haram and tell them if they happen to have a chapter here in Jamaica, #PleaseTakeOurGirls, because quite frankly, we are not willing to love and protect them in the way that they deserve. No. Our girls and our women are not safe here.