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.
I note the writer’s initial response was laughter. There is nothing wrong with that. Laughter is not necessarily about anything funny. Sometimes laughter comes from embarrassment, nervousness and light fear. That said, no one in this country is safe until we are all safe. This is not about gender, sexual orientation, age or any of the stereotyping that we do. As a society we, need to show respect for all. How long are we just going to continue to sing, “Teach us true respect for all…” It is time to start showing respect for all.
That you laughed at first only means you are as human as the rest of us, just as shaped by our culture of normalizing crime. That you recognized laughing was wrong means you can look past a culture where crime is no longer news, to see the very real, very devastating problems we face.
Although I have to disagree about asking Boko Haram to take our girls. We don’t need to ask. So many of our girls are already being stolen to work in the sex trade that it’s almost as if their greedy fingers are stretching here too.
Such solemn words, Miss Robyn.
Laughter is often an expression of discomfort, I agree. I found it most disturbing in Japan when people would tell you some awful news with a smile on their face. I agree with both the above commenters entirely. But to me it is about even more than respect – it is about really caring for and nurturing our girls – they need protection, and love. Ask Eve for Life (an NGO that supports/empowers teens and young mothers living with HIV and AIDS) and the girls’ stories will make you cry. Although they don’t want sympathy, they just want a chance at a decent life (most of them suffer from domestic abuse, many have been raped). Sex trade is another issue. Many Jamaican girls are quietly suffering.
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Did you see Carolyn Cooper’s latest editorial in the Gleaner?
No…not yet. Will look it up now. (I was out of Gleaner ‘on-line’ views 😦 )
Which article by Carolyn Cooper – what date are you referring to? Please. She wrote a very poor editorial in support of Bains and muddled references to Bob Marley.. clutching at straws for an argument.
She also wrote an editorial praising an actor for quitting a series when he found out his character was scripted to do a male -male kissing scene.
If you don’t mind I would like to add that there are many case of our boys raped by men and women that goes unreported. The fact that the statistics skew to the girls is because they have a significantly stronger support system (legislative, police and counselling) than our boys, hence they are far more likely to be reported without being turned back at the police station or even being afraid to come forward.
Any instance of rape and pedophilia is detestable and the perpetrators should be punished severely. However, instead of a balanced point of view, feminists fail to understand that the boys are also suffering with nowhere to go.
Quite agree with this actually, re the under-reporting of adult on boy paedophilia because of the stigma attached to it. But of course I’m suggesting that it gets under-reported in both cases because the molestation of little girls is largely not even considered paedophilia to begin with. When it gets to the point of little girls getting pregnant we might talk about a problem of ‘teenage pregnancy’ (again the language putting the blame partly at the feet of the girl). But paedophilia in our imagination is something that mainly happens to boys. The so-called feminist point of view isn’t creating an imbalance; it’s correcting one! As you correctly say though, ‘Any instance of rape an pedophilia is detestable and the perpetrators should be punished sevverely.’
As a victim myself I can attest to the fact that the police don’t really care. So that support system for girls that you mention is not really a support system.
The problem, I think, is that troublesome definition of “rape”. Based on that definition, a boy cannot be raped. That is tragic. Further, why should a boy not want a girl, or a woman to force herself on him? Him must be a fish!. I agree with you wisewords. Where is the support for boys who are victims of rape and buggery?
Well said Kei. We seem as a society to be suffering from Cognitive dissonance which won’t allow us to see the truth of something when we believe otherwise. That is why the Sexual Offenses Act passed 5 years ago allows marital rape, and DOES NOT define as rape the forceful penetration of the anus or the mouth by a penis or any other object. It is referred to as ‘Grievous Sexual Assault’ and carries a maximum penalty of only 10 years, in contrast to the maximum penalty for rape (which can only occur when a penis is used to rape a vagina) is life imprisonment. We have a long way to go to even begin to understand the damage we are doing to each other and our society by our skewed norms.
That’s exactly what the children in jamaica need love and protection by they own parents.Parents needs to take a reign on their children, know where they are and a curfew, but instead let’s me honest most don’t care enough and let them wonder the streets all hours alone at a very young age. No acceptable!!! Children should be protected by they parents 24/7 and at a very young age be collected from school and know what they are doing. I have witnessed it myself children as young as 18 months with a 10 year old on the streets begging. I have seen young children late at night (dark) walking the streets and in some cases dangerous areas with no sidewalk.
“We may as well write to Boko Haram and tell them if they happen to have a chapter here in Jamaica, #PleaseTakeOurGirls”
The use of the hashtag #PleaseTakeOurGirls to support the story at the end is poor. As an avid supporter of #BringBackOurGirls, and all the global efforts across the world, it is really in bad taste to suggest writing to Boko Haram to take our girls. The girls in Nigeria didn’t have a choice, they weren’t sold to these terrorists, and although Jamaica can do better at protecting it’s girls like many other countries in the world, selling them or begging terrorists to take them doesn’t solve the problem nor does it create awareness of how we can HELP our girls in Jamaica. This story is real, the issues presented are real, but please let’s all find a way to solve these issues. The comments in agreement are great, the articles are great, but please I do not urge anyone to take our girls, let’s find a way to save them. Thank you for writing this, I look forward to finding a solution to this problem.
That is such a beautiful photo of two school girls at the top. Do you mind my asking where I could source it? Thanks
Reblogged this on Petchary's Blog and commented:
This is the second article I referred to from Jamaican writer Kei Miller. Our girls are indeed living on the edge. While the Jamaican far-right fundamentalists are panicking about predatory gays, our young girls suffer. The heterosexual rape culture is alive and well…and largely ignored. Ask the NGO Eve for Life, which seeks to support and empower young girls living with HIV and AIDS. The (true) stories they will tell you…
Great article, with many points of agreement. I was concerned about the image of the pregnant girl without any attempt to obscure her identity. Was that really necessary?
Reblogged this on Jamaican Journal and commented:
Please read this very important post from a few days ago by poet Kei Miller about Jamaica’s girls.
Reblogged this on Throwing our Voices and commented:
Definite need for more research around this. Not only in Jamaica but the other islands as well. I remember growing up and seeing older men trying to get young school girls. We need to open up our eyes and look more into this.
How very true Kei! I have had that same discussion with some of my friends; one disturbing take on it is that at least the rape of girls involves a “natural” act for women (namely, vaginal penetration), whereas the rape of boys involves an “unnatural” act for them (namely – dare I say it – anal penetration). I would like the people who hold this view to speak to some of the female students that come to my desk because of the trauma suffered as a result of rape, and who are unable to focus on getting ahead in their course of study because of it. This so-called “natural” act has damaged them for life.
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