BLACK RIVER, St Elizabeth — Inevitably, following the recent arrest of a Moravian pastor for alleged rape and sexual intercourse with a minor in Austin, south-eastern St Elizabeth, child abuse took centre stage at last Thursday’s meeting of the St Elizabeth Municipal Corporation (Parish Council).
Police chief in St Elizabeth Supt Lanford Salmon set the tone during his report on crime when he urged councillors and their constituents to report to the police and the Child Development Agency (CDA) any suspicions they may have of child abuse.
“When offences are suspected people should move away from the ‘hush hush’ mentality … you should tell your constituents to say what they know. Some of these things stay for years and fester and no one says anything,” said Salmon.
He cautioned, however, that even as the police needed the support of the public, everyone should understand that there “are many, many sides to stories”.
He spoke of a case of alleged sexual grooming and sexual touching of an 11 year-old in Top Hill in the parish which gained public attention when former Member of Parliament for St Elizabeth South Eastern Richard Parchment spoke of it on radio. The implication had been that the police had failed to act on reports.
In fact, said Salmon, the Junction police had acted, including ensuring a medical examination of the reported victim and conducting investigations which had led to a decision to arrest the alleged offender. The suspect, whom Salmon emphasised is “not a pastor,” but a member of the Church of God community in Top Hill, south-eastern St Elizabeth, had fled the area, apparently on realising he was being investigated.
He urged anyone who is able so to do, to have the suspect in the Top Hill incident report to the police.
Councillors then questioned the role and tactics of the police and the CDA on receipt of reports about child abuse, and particularly in regard to sexual matters. Under Jamaican law, sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of consent — 16 years old — is a criminal offence.
Councillor Layton Smith (PNP — Myersville Division) told the council that prior to the arrest of Moravian Rev Rupert Clarke, he had found it necessary to contact the CDA regarding the home from which the 15-year-old victim of the alleged sex crime came. He had done so, he said, because of serious concerns about the management of girl children in that home. He had not developed the impression that anything was done, Smith said.
Newly elected councillor for the Brompton Division, Withney Smith (JLP), told of a case in her division in which a 14-year-old girl had been impregnated allegedly by a 30-odd-year-old man. She said there appeared to be no repercussions despite reports to the authorities. Further, Smith reported, she had been told by a family member that a “compromise” had been arrived at.
“It is unbelievable that we are in a space where in 2017 (2016 at the time) we are coming to a compromise when a 14-year-old is pregnant. I want to know how does the police approach a situation like this, and when a citizen reports a situation like this and you see the child walking around with big belly and the father is still walking around gallivanting, what next?…” said Withney Smith.
The logical response from many people would be “it nuh mek no sense… there is no change, no repercussions, no sense reporting it”, she said.
Salmon, who later explained that in cases of allegations of sexual misconduct involving children the police must work very closely with the CDA, had told the meeting he was aware of staff shortages at the CDA in St Elizabeth. Also, he said, he had found that CDA personnel were often difficult to contact at nights and on weekends.
Salmon also pointed to cultural habits and belief systems which often hampered the law in child sex abuse cases.
“Understand that in this country, sometimes we have a little ‘sorry fa’ business,” said Salmon. “There are people who say ‘ geem a chance’ That’s our culture, that’s the mentality…” he said.
However, he said, “… if it was reported to the police and the relevant statements given to police, then the police ought to act.”
Councillor Jeremy Palmer (JLP — Pedro Plains Division), who is a lawyer, noted that once a pregnant girl below the age of consent visits a medical facility, health professionals were compelled under law to make a report to the CDA.
“The CDA Act is specifically framed to commit the pre-natal people at the clinic to a reporting position’, they have to report if a child comes there who is under the age of consent and is pregnant, they must do a report on the whole thing and do a thorough investigation and make the CDA do a thorough investigation,” said Palmer, who is a former mayor of Black River.
He noted that parents can be arrested for “aiding and abetting sexual intercourse with a minor” in cases where sex below the age of consent is proven.
Palmer suggested that the legal requirements may explain why some people were giving birth at home.
Former Mayor of Black River Everton Fisher (PNP — Balaclava Division) observed that while the latest incident involving the Moravian pastor had triggered “alarm bells”, it should be recognised that the situation was neither unique nor new. The root cause was often economic, he said. “When people live in poverty, mothers sometimes turn a blind eye,” Fisher said. However, the former mayor and council chairman said “the time has come when we must stand up as a society against such behaviour”.
There needed to be greater public education on the issue involving agencies such as the Social Development Commission (SDC), Fisher said.
Current mayor of Black River and council chairman, Derrick Sangster (JLP — Moutainside Division), said that the entire “unforutunate” situation “gives a clear indication of how economic circumstances can affect (society) in terms of how families and others interact”.