When one thinks of incest they normally think of some backwoods states in America like Mississippi, Alabama and Oklahoma. However, according to the Executive director of Eve for Life (EFL), Joy Crawford, incest is a big problem right here in Jamaica.
Miss Crawford states that some parishes like Westmoreland and St. Thomas have way more incest cases than others but the problem is actually island wide.
“Those parishes have certain communities that seem to have a culture of incest, but by no means is it not an island wide problem. But, St Ann, St Thomas, and Westmoreland have been known to report and experience high levels of incest,” Crawford said.
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Miss Crawford says a fair numbers of incest cases are a result of rape. In fact more than half the calls that comes to ELF, the alleged victim claimed to be raped by a family member. She went on to say many rape by family member is hidden or difficult and painful to expose.
“What makes it difficult, is that, to report or to expose or to go to the media for example, with specific cases, puts the girl at direct risk. It’s almost difficult to say we arrested Mr X for raping his daughter, without exposing the daughter. How does the media traverse something like that without everyone knowing this man only has one child? The issue around incest, even to report it in a media perspective, is very difficult. In the real sense of what is happening with our girls, it is very very difficult to handle this issue of incest,” Crawford said, highlighting that the issue of incest has remained a family secret in society.
Figures from the Jamaica Constabulary Force Statistics and Information Management Unit for 2016 to May 31, 2020 support Crawford’s claim and highlight other parishes where reports of incest seem to recur.
The JCFs statistics reveal that for the year 2016, there were 30 cases of incest. The data broken down by parish shows four cases in Clarendon; two in Hanover; five in Manchester; three in Portland; one in St Ann; nine in St Catherine; one in St Elizabeth; two in St James; one in St Mary; and two in Trelawny. There were seven reported cases of incest in January; three cases in March; three cases in April; five cases in May; three in June; four in July; and five cases in December.
For 2017, there were 29 cases of incest. The parish data indicates that there were six cases in Clarendon; five in Manchester; three in St Andrew; one in St Ann; five in St Catherine; one in St Elizabeth; two in St James; one in St Mary; three in St Thomas and two in Westmoreland. Two cases of incest were reported in January; one in February; four cases of incest in March; two in April; one in May; two cases in June; five cases in July; six cases in August; two in September; one in October; and three in November.
In 2018, there were 23 reported cases of incest. Three cases were in Clarendon; four in Manchester; one in St Andrew; two in St Ann; eight in St Catherine; one in St Mary; two in St Thomas; and two in Westmoreland. In January there were three reported cases; five cases in February; three cases in March; one case in May; one case in June; one in July; two cases in August, September, and October; and three cases in December.
The year 2019 had 21 reported cases of incest. There were three cases in Clarendon; one in Hanover; one in Manchester; four in St Andrew; one in St Catherine; one in St Elizabeth; five in St James; and five in St Thomas. There were three reported cases of incest in January; two in February; three in March and April; one reported case in May, June, and July. Five cases were reported in the month of August; and October had two reports of incest.
For 2020, up until May 31, there had been 12 reported cases of incest. Three cases were in Clarendon; two in St Andrew; one in St Ann; two in St Catherine; two in St Elizabeth; one in St Mary; and one in Trelawny. The highest cases were seen in January, March, and April. There were four reports of incest in January; one report in February; four reports in March and three in April.
The National Plan of Action for an Integrated Response to Children and Violence 2018 – 2023 (NPACV) maintains that over the last 10 years, crimes of sex with a person under 18, and rape have been very prevalent among girls 14 years and younger and remains an issue of great concern.
The NPACV also highlights data from the Jamaica Injury Surveillance System, which shows that over the 2014 to 2017 period, 20 per cent of all child visits to public hospitals were due to sexual assault. The NPACV added that females are over represented as victims of sexual assaults as 40 per cent of all female child visits were because of a sexual assault.
In addition, the NPACV stated that for a majority of the sexual abuse cases reported, the perpetrator was known by the victim ¬– a relative, friend, acquaintance, or intimate partner – while the minority of cases were perpetrated by a stranger. It also revealed that sexual assault was seen to occur disproportionately at home.
The NPACV is part of Jamaica’s response to the commitment it made to the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children and will be implemented over a five-year period.
Moreover, the NPACV highlights that the psychological effects of child sexual abuse can include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, propensity to further victimisation in adulthood, and physical injury to the child among other problems.
The plan of action also states that sexual abuse by a family member is a form of incest and can result in more serious and long-term psychological trauma, especially in the case of parental incest.
The NPACV also highlights the physical effects of child sexual abuse, which often results in unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS and other reproductive issues.
To this end, Crawford and her team have made submissions to Parliament around reviewing the issue of abortion.
“We are asking for safe and legal abortions on behalf of girls who are raped by family members, by somebody who is genealogically connected to them. At least they have an option to decide what do I do with this because it is extremely difficult. Every act of an unwanted pregnancy, every act of rape is difficult. But I think it is exaggerated when it is a family member. The child who comes out of a product of incest has that burden also to deal with. Incest is a difficult thing, but we must manage it,” Crawford said. “We have a lot of girls who have borne children, who the fathers are related to them, and they either decide that it is my child and I will love him or her anyway and I will do my best, and some really just resent and hate the child for as long as is, because it is a constant reminder. In a support group with survivors, one of the young ladies asked the facilitator, ‘How do I tell my nine-year-old that her father is her uncle?’ It’s a very difficult question. Women grapple with this thing about incest when they are forced to carry children. It is a very difficult issue, but we must start navigating it, because it is happening. It’s happening and it becomes one of the biggest contributors to not just HIV but to adolescent suicide, to depression, to our girls not doing well in school. [And] I’m just talking about the ones we experience because they may have got pregnant or got an sexually transmitted infection (STI), which makes them part of the population of girls we serve.”
Meanwhile, Crawford said EFL has employed over 40 Nuh Guh Deh ambassadors across 22 communities to help with educating the public about issues surrounding sexual violence in an effort to bring it to a halt.
“Whenever we go into a community we look at the general issue around sexual violence of our girls, then it gives us the opportunity to address the other issues around incest, who the perpetrators are, what is the profile of the perpetrators. When you take it from that field I have found most communities to be very open. I have found that even if they come and whisper, they want it to be different. I think we’re at a stage in Jamaica now where people really want it to end. They probably don’t know how to get it to end, [because] they don’t have all the tools to respond, but the general feeling is, even if they sit on the side and look on, they really want it to end,” she said.