Policing rape culture

IMG_1343

 

Gleaner column 3/1/2018

Looking back on 2017 one thing stands out. Jamaica was way ahead of the curve in what would become the most significant social disruptor, globally, in recent years—breaking the silence on sexual harassment and rape culture.  As far back as early 2017 a young local activist, Latoya Nugent, had the gumption to start the #SayTheirNames campaign in Jamaica accompanied by a list of offenders who had been named by young girls and women as their violators. For this she was vilified and treated like an enemy of the state, with six assault rifle-bearing members of the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) descending on Mary Seacole Hall at the University of the West Indies to arrest her.

The actions of Latoya Nugent, and her close allies Nadine Spence, Taitu Heron and others gave rise to what is now known as The Tambourine Army because in accusing the then leader of the Moravian Church, Paul Gardner, Nugent tapped him on the head with a tambourine. This caused several senior activists and journalists to harshly criticize the tactics of the younger generation of activists, on the grounds that their modus operandi was too militant and they were using violence to make their point. Never mind the far more serious violence these women were protesting, assault with a tambourine became a thing in Jamaica.

In India too a young lawyer named Raya Sarkar started a growing ‘hall of shame’ list of names of sexual predators leading to a remarkably similar fallout between an older generation of feminists and a younger, more impatient one, tired of waiting for ‘due process’ to trip in. Like Nugent’s list in Jamaica care was taken to ensure that complaints about sexual predation were registered based on evidence corroborating the accusation. The difference was that the Indian list came in the wake of the phenomenally successful US-based #MeToo campaign in October 2017 whereas the Tambourine Army and the #SayTheirNames campaign in Jamaica were already in full swing by February 2017.

The problem of rape in Jamaica is not new. According to artist Judy Ann Macmillan her mother, Vida J. Macmillan, did her best to change the rape laws of Jamaica in the 70s with continuous letters to the Gleaner. The punishment in her day for raping a child was twelve lashes. Judy Ann grew up on the story that her mother had even tried to talk to Edna Manley about it and Edna’s response was “If you are about to be raped dear I think you should lie down and enjoy it.” Mind you those were the days of the ideology wars and Vida and Edna came from opposite sides of that divide.

The sheer number of women and children routinely being sexually violated even today points to a pervasive ‘rape culture’ that is so deeply ingrained and accepted that there is hardly any outcry against it. Most women don’t even bother to report their rapes because of the tortuous procedures involved that make them relive the trauma in the process of being interviewed by police and legal personnel bristling with disbelief and completely lacking in empathy. Nor is this a local problem only. As @LauraOlin tweeted “Why women don’t report: 60 women give the same account of Bill Cosby and a jury still can’t agree that he raped anyone.”

Latoya Nugent was ahead of her time in the stellar championing of victims’ rights to call out their aggressors by name. So important did a similar movement become in the US only months later that Time magazine named as its persons of the year, The Silence Breakers—the women who had the courage to speak to the New York Times about their sexual exploitation at the hands of Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein.

Meanwhile I heard a local journalist complaining that he preferred the hashtag #MeToo to #SayTheirNames because the latter was too confrontational. Yet as a vice.com article titled The Trouble With Saying ‘Me Too’ pointed out: “For each of us who have been raped, assaulted or harassed, there is at least one rapist, at least one abuser. These are the people who need to be held accountable, instead of survivors being put on trial to prove their assaults were bad enough to count for something.” In France, the campaign used the hashtag #BalanceTonPorc – roughly translated as “snitch out your pig” a far more hard-hitting and unflattering tag than #SayTheirNames.

Naming those who injure you is important, breaking harmful silences is crucial. Let the Tambourine Army do its work. As an anonymous supporter of Nugent’s said, “Men will hear tambourines shake in their heads anytime they feel tempted to touch a woman or child, and they will think twice. They are the ones who will be afraid.”

See and blind, hear and deaf…

IMG_1343

The following is my unedited Gleaner column of March 22, 2017. Because it goes directly against the anti-Latoya Nugent and anti-#saytheirnames position adopted by the Gleaner this column wasn’t even shown in the Commentary lineup today (the sidebar showing columns published on a particular day), and you would have had to search hard to find it, very odd considering the number of views it has attracted. Anyway, thank the various gods for blogs…i can easily remedy the situation by posting it here.

The latest is that Nugent’s case which was to have been heard today has been postponed to March 31 because DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) Paula Llewelyn has announced ‘an interest’ in the case. We shall see when the time comes what this ‘interest’ means for issues of libel and defamation in cyberspace. Meanwhile the fate of Latoya Nugent aka as Stella Gibson on Facebook (the name of a hardcore police detective who’s an unapologetic feminist from the British show The Fall) hangs in the balance.

As I pointed out in an earlier column, Jamaican men cry rape every time women say, “Yes, let’s say their names.” A kind of hysteria breaks out because somehow they hear this as women demanding the right to falsely accuse men of raping them. But this is not what women are demanding at all, particularly in the new activism around violence against women.

According to Latoya Nugent, one of the founders of Tambourine Army, most of what has been said in both traditional and social media about the#saytheirnames movement is a damaging and gross misrepresentation. She clarifies that the movement is emphatically not about recklessly calling names without any context:

IMG_3243IMG_3250

When we encourage survivors to say the names of perpetrators we are not telling them where to say that name, when to say that name, we are telling them that if they are ever ready to say the names of their perpetrators in private and/or in public that support is available. Whether you want emotional support, psychological support or legal support, it is available for you. I want folks to appreciate that this is about facilitating the empowerment of survivors and about shifting the blame and shame away from survivors and placing it squarely at the feet of perpetrators and institutions which have allowed folks to abuse their positions of authority and trust because they are aware that we as a society silence our victims and our perpetrators. Our first response when a woman or girl says to us that they have been sexually assaulted or raped is that we don’t believe them and #Saytheirnames is about saying to such women, ‘we believe you, if you decide to come forward we believe you, we will provide the support that you need and if we can’t provide it, we will point you to the entities, or the agencies or the individuals who can give you the support that is needed.’ (Transcribed verbatim from an interview with Nationwide’s Cliff Hughes the day before Latoya Nugent was arrested)

Basically there has been a ‘see and blind, hear and def’ or “see not, hear not, speak not” policy in place in Jamaica for decades. There is widespread buy-in from civil society, the media, the Church, the University, the legal fraternity, you name it. It is enforced by an army of prim citizens, whose first reaction when you speak out about an injustice is to raise their finger to their lips in the universal gesture that means ‘halt your speech’ or ‘stop your noise’ as they say here.

People are socialized to believe that it is fundamentally wrong to ‘call someone’s name’ in public, especially in the media. This should only be done after accusations have been proved in court they say. But court cases take years to be completed in Jamaica and even when they do, often fail to deliver justice. Take the case of the Reverend Paul Lewis, accused of raping a 14-year old girl in Sav-la-Mar, in the presence of another 14-year old girl who testified in court to the rape. Despite the Reverend’s semen being found on the child’s underwear, despite the testimony of an eyewitness, a Jamaican court saw fit to hand down a ‘not-guilty’ verdict.

More often than not rape victims don’t report the crime or give up during the extremely painful, invasive process of going to court to prosecute their attackers. A senior lecturer at UWI says: “I’ve watched helplessly while one of my (now former) students went through 4 years of appearances, delays, and postponements in the courts for the prosecution of two young men whom she had been able to identify as being among her assailants in a gang rape. She eventually decided to pull out of the case. As she put it, they had taken enough of her life, and every time she was required to make another court appearance, she relived the experience. She needed to move on. Justice denied. I wish the perpetrators could be named.”

“Every year, an average of 5,500 people are reporting sexual violence to Canadian police, but their cases are dropping out of the system as unfounded long before a Crown prosecutor, judge or jury has a chance to weigh in,” reports the Globe and Mail. The use of the term ‘unfounded’ to describe cases that the police have dropped due to the inadequacies of their own methods of interviewing victims, taking statements etc has been identified as highly problematic. The article goes on to state:

“True unfounded cases, which arise from malicious or mistaken reports, are rare. Between 2 per cent and 8 per cent of complaints are false reports, according to research from North America, the United Kingdom and Australia.”

There is no reason the numbers would be markedly different in Jamaica. Why then the moral panic about the mere possibility of libel in cyberspace? And why is there not a similar outcry about the out-of-control rape culture here?