Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Shaming Victims of Sexual Violence

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Every so often, the media incites some outrage over sexual violence within the relatively apathetic Jamaican population. Regrettably, our outrage is too often confined to the comfort of conversations with friends and family and many of us shame and blame rape victims rather than cultivating a constructive conversation on how to end sexual violence.

Women and girls who are raped are often asked: What were you doing? What were you wearing? Did you provoke him? Many of us do not even realize that men can also be raped, and very few report and provide information to security forces about sexual violence. We know of cases of rape and abuse and do nothing about it. Many Jamaicans also know that unscrupulous men and women target sex workers and that adult women target underage boys. Still, cases are not reported and inadequate laws that limit the pursuit of justice are not challenged.

So hopeless is our situation that even people who are affected by sexual violence remain silent. There is a general hopelessness—justice is often too slow, and survivors are too often blamed and stigmatized with their lives becoming a public spectacle.

Recently, a lesbian couple was raped by a man who apparently wanted to “make them straight.” When they reported the incident, police allegedly told the women that they had gotten just what they deserved. Wide-spread and well-known homophobia in Jamaica breeds such prejudiced comments, but heterosexual victims of sexual violence also receive similar comments.

Those of us with relatively easy access to lawmakers fail to call their attention to these important social issues.

Political leaders sometimes make an effort to address the gravest cases of sexual abuse, but their responses are often delayed, lackluster and void of empathy. Where are our leaders who campaigned on these social issues? How many more cases of sexual violence will it take for us to begin to treat the issue with the attention it deserves?

The problem is aggravated by the fact that we celebrate cultural icons who continue to disempower women through lyrics that carry a message of men owning women.

I see some of my colleagues on Twitter calling for tougher penalties for rape. Still, that will not prevent sexual violence until we change our mindsets. Courts and others who are responsible for administering justice should not victimize women when they report sex crimes. They should also not ignore the fact that men, gays, lesbians, and transgender people are victims of rape and sexual assault.

As Toni Morrison once said, “Rape is a criminal act whatever the circumstance. A woman riding the subway nude may be guilty of indecency, but she may not be raped. If she invites or even sells sex at 10:00 and refuses it at 10:45, the partner who disregards her refusal and forces sex is guilty of rape.” We must remind every individual that sexual relations must be mutual, especially those lawmakers and political leaders who shame victims of sexual assault.


Jaevion Nelson is executive director at the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network (JYAN), a youth-led volunteer and advocacy organization based in Kingston, Jamaica. He holds an MSc in Social Development and Communication from the University of Wales, Swansea. He is a member of Steering Committee for the HIV Young Leaders Fund (HYLF) and Developing Country NGO Delegation on the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM) Board. Twitter: @jaevionn.

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