In my last blog post, I mentioned the case of a 64 year-old church pastor, Rupert Clarke, who was recently discovered in flagrant delicto by the police, allegedly raping a fifteen year-old girl in a parked car. Yes, I am using the word “rape” because, to me, this is statutory rape. However, the man was today charged with “having sex with a minor” at the St. Elizabeth Parish Court, and granted bail in the sum of J$800,000. He must have one or two sureties and is to return to court on February 13. He is, of course, innocent until proved guilty.
My friend and Programme Manager at Eve for Life Joy Crawford posted this heartfelt piece on Facebook. It’s a place where many rants appear – but this is NOT a rant. It is Joy’s personal view, from her personal experience as she shares the extraordinary challenges of the girls (mostly HIV-positive mothers in their teens and early twenties) whom Eve for Life cares for, supports and empowers. This includes the girls’ own support group ROAR (Restoring Order to All Relationships) – which came about because it became clear that many of the young women and girls served by Eve for Life suffer from (or are survivors of) domestic abuse at the hands of their partners, or others.
The broader issues of pedophilia, sexual exploitation and the culture of disrespect for women and girls have to be tackled with urgency in Jamaica. How often do we have to keep saying this? These issues can no longer be swept under the carpet. It is not only crime and murders that are undermining the country’s progress. Gleaner columnist Jaevion Nelson also upholds Joy’s point that many who overlook this exploitation of our young girls are men and women who should know better. They know what is happening – but the perpetrator might just be someone with a certain amount of status in society; so he/she is protected. And can we quit the victim-blaming, once and for all? Vulnerable girls are not the “sinful” ones in this scenario. The big grown-up men are – those whom people look up to, whether in the pulpit or in any other position of power and influence.
This is NOT progress. This is NOT “prosperity.” If we want to progress and prosper, we must empower and support the least vulnerable in our society. But first of all, let’s get out of our “denial” mode.
P.S. I personally had the honor to help launch the “Nuh Guh Deh” campaign with Eve for Life, UNICEF, the Office of the Children’s Registry and others in November, 2013. The program was again the highlight of the UN Country Team’s High Level Breakfast in recognition of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, one year later. Jamaicans from ALL walks of life need to listen to these messages.
The need is all the more urgent now. Old men, leave the young girls alone!
Here is Joy’s Facebook piece:
The issue of childhood sexual abuse is not “current affairs” when it comes into my space. It is a commission within my spirit that I must respond to, hence the 2014 launch of the Nuh Guh Deh programme (yes, it’s a programme beyong the#hashtag). I knew if we did not “taunt dem, haunt dem cradle robber, cradle snatcher, dirty old man turned sugar daddy,” [lyrics to Nomaddz song – view the full video here] we would be here today in 2017 and beyond.
Though there have been flickers of light on the issue of childhood sexual abuse, it will need a fire in our hearts to end or at least push back the scourge. I have told my friend Emma Lewis on more than one occasion that the Girl Child in Jamaica is an endangered species.
As I look on, there are still some fundamentals missing. Yes, the response needs all shapes and types of actions and reactions. However there are many aspects of our governance, social media rants and understanding (with all best intentions), that continue to hurt and harm the abused.
My life is my work, and though we share similar views our vocabulary is different; this requires me to find the balance always. On the issue of balance, let’s look at this newspaper article: Church Hurting – Clergymen Call For Balance Between Compassion And Punishment For Minister On Sexual Offence Charges. I totally understand the “protecting our own.” It happens in families, who don’t want to be exposed or shamed or disgraced by family secrets of “sexual sins.” Therefore the victim becomes the secondary and most expendable, most times openly or silently charged with causing the adult man to act in this way. So I quite understand the position and reaction of those in the communities of ‘”fate” [faith] so far. What concerns me is the call for compassion in the punishment from the pulpit – versus a seeking out of God’s will (“not my will, but yours”); and how we have sought to craft in the mind of the hearers how they should pray, and the direction of their prayers.
Now let’s be clear, personally I pray for all who commit an offence, so we can be restored to our highest good and quickly. When the #nuhguhdeh campaign at Eve for Life sits with survivors, we work at ROAR (Restoring Order to All Relationships – self, perpetrators and community). And it is with empathy, propelled by forgiveness and healing for all levels of the wrong. However, when it comes to each person’s punishment – God’s will be done. There is need for caution that the church – who claim to be the “moral” authority since Jamaica is largely a Christian country – does not seek to influence the law and lawmakers to favor their own people. But now that I think about it, I guess leniency is in order since it was non-consensual old man’s sex on young girl, and not consensual adult man sex with adult man [sarcasm].
My cynicism I pray will disappear as I work on my own heart. You see I am excited about how the dust will settle; because God loves his children and will protect them. We however, as the guardians, have a responsibility. There are so many areas in our laws, morals, culture that are wrong; and the current justifying, intellectualizing and rationalizing is wrong. A poster on my [Facebook] page told me: “I am sorry that you don’t understand English” after I took issue with a comment. He inferred that his knowledge, understanding and work around the issues gave credence to his post. “But parents must also protect their children. Remember that I know the situation. Unnu fe stop put out unnu under age daughter to man, and when shame buss unnu call police.”
Well, one missing element from his credentials is “he who knows it feels it, lawd.” I can think of hundreds of girls who remain abused by our responses to their abuse. I would like to hear less about “Satan’s attack on the Church” and more about the attack on the Girl Child: How we continue to try and devalue her, make her invisible, how we close our eyes and ears to her cry, how we constantly turn her truth into a lie. How we pity her rather than include her in her own growth and development; how we prescribe our solutions without consulting her; how we tell her not to tell; how we Band-Aid her pain with a few sessions in our institutions (if she is lucky or has someone bold enough to carry her); how we in our school and community ask her to leave or become invisible, rather than implementing programs to create safe space where she can live. And how the “communities of fate” keep getting it wrong.
Jaevion Nelson concludes his column thus: “All of this is a part of the rape culture which protects the accused and not the victim. It’s unhelpful.”
That’s putting it mildly.