We are still living in the days of old. We still duck for cover at the mere mention of organs of copulation, nudity and what we perceive as novel forms of sexual deviance and misconduct. Hard to believe, but we still mask the emergence of a pregnant figure with farcical tales of swallowed breadfruits, and coy references to the birds and bees. We routinely expect others to teach our children good manners, basic hygiene, including how to care for their body organs, and their functions. Is it any wonder that the children we try so hard to protect from reality are the ones most in need of our protection?
Having managed the successful tabooing of all things sexual, some in our society continue to encourage the victimization and abuse of the young. The value we place on the lives of the young is so diminished that some glorify the sexual feats of the perpetrators while others persist in the incessant persecution of the victims.
Some months ago I met Jess (not her real name), a teenager who lives in the north of the island. Having suffered the brutality of a gang rape, being alive for her is synonymous with “just waking up.” She looks on incredulously as many around her openly lionize rapists for having conquered a female who was “too hot,” had “too much style” or had been “asking for it.”
Like other rape victims, Jess has been exiled to a world where suicide appears increasingly attractive, where self-harm can be addictive and whispers of concern are just that—whispers. Jess has learned the hard way that victims are raped all over again with crafty aspersions taken from an imagined sexual dossier, while perpetrators strut in the bliss of freedom. True story.
Who’s to blame for this regrettable state of affairs?
How many of us know of mothers who sell their daughter’s virginity to the highest bidder; who collect the monthly rent for her young body at night when no one is looking? Do we know of the older men who seek to recharge their corrupt libidos with sexual encounters with the young? Do we know of the system of sexual serfdom which exist in our communities yet say nothing because “it’s none of our business?” Do we know Daddy wakes up in the middle of the night to fondle our daughters but remain silent because Daddy buys the groceries, pays the bills and arranges our weekly make-overs? Do we conceal the suffering of the Verlinda Josephs among us and hide the scars of the Valerie Lords with make-up and plastic smiles? Are we part of the problem?
We are all too aware of the scourge of child sexual abuse and the repercussions for the victims and for society. For many of us, our humanity is not sufficient to allow us to reach out to victims and assist in their healing. Our archaic laws also do not protect victims; they allow perpetrators easily to escape justice. We cannot continue to live comfortably in an environment where a female must resort to crime so as to ensure her safety. Why should I have to resort to criminal violence (as in the recent case of a female student who allegedly stabbed a man who had sexually harassed her) so as to get public attention?
While acknowledging the many hindrances faced in the prosecution of sexual offences (inadequate training in the use of age appropriate interview techniques and the use of rape kits; persecution of victims), we must be prepared to acknowledge that the time has come to update our laws. It is high time laws were introduced to ensure mandatory reporting of sex crimes.
As has Trinidad and Tobago, we too must ensure parents, family and community members, educators, health workers and other social workers report such crimes.
The “secret arrangements” and “rural court sessions,” where family members and alleged perpetrators serve are judges, jurors, lawyers, witnesses and executioners, cannot be tolerated any longer. Children have their rights and should not be denied them. No one should trade a child’s innocence for a cow, a few dollars or that occasional spa moment that some of us dream of briefly. A child’s innocence is not a commodity to be bought and sold.
We must be ready to boldly echo the sentiments of the commissioner of the Virgin Islands Police Department, Delroy Richards Jr: “If the children are indeed our future, then we must protect them from all predatory elements that seek to undermine the very laws that are enacted to shield them from these elements. Our resources must be directed to a common goal—zero tolerance.”. Zero tolerance for Child Sexual Abuse.