Reflections on the Sexual Abuse of Our Children: 2 – Concerns About Rural Poverty, Education and the Church

I am sharing another perspective here from two activists and educators, Afifa Aza and Georgia Love. There are many societal problems, buried deep in the story of the alleged sexual abuse of young girls by senior church members (which is still unfolding). Afifa and Georgia have their own concerns, and they are asking some pointed questions here. Perhaps one of the key words that springs to mind is RESPONSIBILITY. Educators, families, society, church leaders… We all have a responsibility to protect the Girl Child.

Poverty, Emperors and Their Old Clothes

Most of Jamaica is rural, but the shame for our backwoods reality would have us forget our “countryness” and maintain a general orientation towards Kingston and its urban fixtures. Churches and schools dignify tiny Jamaican towns and their negligible nooks. These churches and schools deflect from the prevalence and persistence of poverty in rural Jamaica. However, where’s there’s smoke there’s surely fire, and where there’s poverty, income inequality is right around the corner. World Bank data suggests that Jamaica’s rates of income inequality remain defiantly high when compared to other countries in the region. The country’s post-colonial history looms ominously when Malvern, St. Elizabeth would be but a contemporary rural blip without plantation owners, Robert Hugh Munro and Caleb Dickinson, who left Trusts to oversee the “brother” and “sister” schools of Hampton School for Girls and Munro College that continue to “sponsor” poor girls and boys. So the magnanimity of men of means has a long history in Malvern. Imagine their pride and the furor in the 1850s as Munro and Dickinson left their mark for generations to come. Now all eyes are again on Malvern and its esteemed schools and Moravian churches but this time for the wrong reasons, as the institutions that conferred pride for this otherwise “back ah bush” relic have been rattled as Emperors are outed and all that was minted is shown to be “ol’ clothes” and dirty laundry in well guarded closets. The chickens have come home to roost and the Emperor has been found naked.

Students of Hampton High School in St. Elizabeth.
Students of Hampton High School in St. Elizabeth.

Once the riverbed is dredged and righteous indignation takes us deeper than a hunt for perversion and predators, a thorough evaluation of the causes and effects of this chronicle of sexual crimes against minors leads us to gaping holes and doors left wide open for other Rupert Clarkes to abuse their power and prey on young women.
Rupert Clarke has been charged for sex with a minor but is also accused of having a sexual relationship with the fifteen year-old’s sister. Investigations and news reports reveal that he took groceries to the sister, whose family needed financial support. Hampton High currently facilitates a sponsorship programme which helps girls who are in financial need. We should ask what are the requirements for being a sponsor for girls at Hampton? Do boys at Munro also have sponsors? How much contact does the sponsor have with a student’s family? Who manages the sponsor programme? How long does sponsorship last? Is the sponsor programme evaluated by anyone external to the Hampton School? As people try to live in deteriorating economic and social conditions in many areas across Jamaica an important way to protect young girls and their families is to ensure that “grocery assistance” is either unnecessary or extremely closely monitored.

Munro College, Hampton's "brother school" in St. Elizabeth.
Munro College, Hampton’s “brother school” in St. Elizabeth.

It Wasn’t Me

The problem with describing sexual violation and assault as a “sex scandal” is how easily it lumps together in our minds the careless, insensitive cheating husband with the pedophile. It also reveals how our male-centered perspectives in this land of h(w)ood and water at the core see male predatory behaviour as acceptable. So Rupert Clarke’s real mistake is that the police caught him. Men are expected to have scandalous sex all the time, ideally with consenting women, but we aren’t entirely surprised that this man of the cloth found himself trapped, like the Bible’s first man. His fall from grace really began with Eve’s temptation.

Now Rev. Dr. Paul Gardner and Jermaine Gibson, former President and Vice President of the Moravian Church have also been charged with carnal abuse and indecent assault, following a report made against them and investigations by detectives from the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA). The police say the incidents date as far back as 2002. Jamaican culture reveres upper and middle class men with social status and heaps unearned advantages or privileges on them. So in a less scandalous context these men’s credibility would rarely be questioned against a woman’s, much less a child’s. Privilege allows such men to never have to take responsibility and their first inclination is to endlessly deny culpability.

Heather Murray (2nd right, in pink) receives the LASCO Principal of the Year Award for 2014. (Photo: JIS)
Heather Murray (2nd right, in pink) receives the LASCO Principal of the Year Award for 2014. (Photo: JIS)

Duty Bearers and The Patriarchal Pact

Those with authority and decision-making power in schools and the Ministry of Education must understand their role as duty bearers for the protection of children’s rights and safety. In this twisted tale the Principal of Hampton School for Girls, Heather Murray attended Rupert Clarke’s bail hearing and added insult to injury by militantly blocking the media’s cameras from taking photos of Rupert Clarke, as an act of support for her friend Mrs. Clarke. The principal’s behaviour and her subsequent protection quickly unveils the sexist underpinnings embedded in major institutions, as the Hampton’s male Board Chair Trevor Blake requests that Mrs. Murray’s “indiscretion” be forgiven. Had Trevor Blake been Munro’s Board Chair and the principal sought to protect a pastor caught with a 15 year old boy would Trevor Blake call the principal’s actions an indiscretion?

If we consider the leadership of the school, what has been the impact of the Murray-Blake alliance on Hampton High School for Girls? How could the Board vote unanimously to accept Mrs. Murray’s apology? Who makes up the Board? All men? All women? Pastors? Business men? Young men? Young women? Past students of Hampton or Past students of Munro? Black men or white men? Rural women or society women? Moravian congregants?

Trevor Blake blatantly rejected a directive by the Minister of Education to send Mrs. Murray on two weeks compassionate leave. How could he go against the decision by the Minister of Education that there be no immediate consequence for Mrs. Murray’s actions?

Minister of Education Ruel Reid (far left) touring Padmore Primary School last year.
Minister of Education Ruel Reid (2nd left) touring Padmore Primary School last year.

Now our Minister of Education, a Munro old boy, has found himself in quite the pickle. Upon appointment Ruel Reid described in a media interview how his previous roles as teacher, administrator and former Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) president made him an ideal Minister. What he seemed to forget is his role as champion for children and youth. We see a clear problem with a governance structure that inadequately separates the Minister and the Ministry. What else can the Ministry of Education do about the situation at Hampton? The Minister has not allowed the Ministry of Education to address this matter. A code of conduct for teachers and principals or a disciplinary committee must exist to make judgments in such cases; but rather, the Minister of Education has acted as the sole arbiter. Under Section 32.1.10 of the Education Act the Teachers’ Services Commission (which ironically was previously chaired by Rev. Paul Gardner) addresses disciplinary matters related to teachers. Could Mrs. Murray be brought before the Teachers’ Services Commission? Why hasn’t the Ministry of Education used any other channel, other than a meeting with Mrs. Murray?

Why haven’t we heard Mrs. Clarke’s voice or any other woman’s voice raised in Murray’s defense? Loud cries for the 15 year old child’s mother’s blameworthiness, but here we see Murray rewarded for her guardianship of the hierarchy, control and dominance of male privilege with powerful men earnestly backing her. We see the actions, policies and institutional arrangements which in effect bequeath girls to powerful men and undermine the safety and well being of children in favour of men’s reputations.


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