By SHARON TURNER
The worst crime levels in The Bahamas are not of murder, attempted murder or armed robbery. And the worst assault taking place in our communities is not at the hands of street thugs or gangsters.
The darkest, dirtiest aspects of Bahamian society – the aspect that gets the least amount of public attention until the offense results in a death – are child molestation, incest and statutory rape (sex with minors).
In a few weeks, Bahamians will be encouraged to don flag colours and celebrate being Bahamian. But in my opinion, the level of incest, child molestation and statutory rape that goes unreported or ignored in this country is so woven into the fabric of our communities that we need to ask ourselves just how proud we should be of who we are as a people. How proud should we be when the most vulnerable and innocent among us are being violated and destroyed at levels few of us want to talk about or combat?
This column is my voice for the voiceless in our country – the children, children whose innocence has been shattered, whose soul has been forever wounded, whose bodies have been violated, and whose minds have been imbued with shame, guilt and pain not of their making.
This column is also my voice for the adults who are victims of childhood sexual abuse – adults who are carrying a secret and pain that has broken them in ways they don’t know how to fix. Adults who today are causing hurt to others because they never found a way to deal with their hurt. Adults who are allowing the cycle of abuse they endured to continue through their own children.
If only The Bahamas would be brought to its knees and understand that many of the wayward children, the wild children, the violent children, the wayward husbands and wives, the wild husbands and wives, the violent husbands and wives are those who have been sexually abused – something that no human being, even with professional help, ever fully “gets over”.
“It isn’t happening to me or in my home” is the single biggest lie being told in our country every minute of the every day with respect to child sexual abuse. Whether rich or poor, educated or not, Christian or not, no household is immune to this evil that is creating a nation of broken people with twisted hearts and tortured minds.
As “violent” crime in our country escalates, more and more of us want to get guns, get security bars, get alarm systems and other forms of protection. Well, what bars are protecting the child who today or tonight is going to be molested by a family member or person known to him or her? What alarms are our children sending out to us every day about their abuse that we are either too busy to notice, too selfish to care about or too religious or prideful to be honest about?
Our children are dying, while we as Bahamians are lying.
Don’t Talk It
Last year, when authorities said more than 700 underage pregnancies happened in The Bahamas and not a soul seemed to bat an eye at that, I was crushed. That is hundreds of victims of statutory rape, hundreds of children raising children – a good number being children by their own fathers, brothers, uncles and cousins and others by grown men, many married.
The fact that the country was silent on that shows how sick we are as a nation, while going to church every Sunday lifting the same “holy hands” that either sexually abused a child hours earlier, wilfully pimped out a child to someone for money, or did or said nothing while a child was being statutorily raped.
Because the family structure in our country continues to deteriorate, children wind up being exposed to things a child should never see or experience. Parents are far too slack with their children in every way, thus opening multiple doors for people to violate their children. And because of our culture of secrecy and lies, children all over the country are suffering in silence and fear. They are dying inside. Mummy won’t believe them or listen to them, and they are afraid to tell anyone what has happened to them.
We as Bahamians need to stop lying to ourselves and to others about what is happening to our children. We tend to be more concerned about someone else’s opinion of us than making sure our children are safe and protected. We have to start deciding whether the man lying up on the side of us is more important than the soul of our child. Is the couple of dollars from the older man who is sleeping with your daughter or son worth the destruction that abuse is causing to your child’s life?
We also need to stop this sick mentality of equating a child with an adult. A minor cannot legally consent to sex in this country. No matter how we allow children to dress these days, and how sexualised our young people are (many times because they were molested), a child is just that – a child. If you look at a child and see anything more than that, it is wrong and you are the one with the problem – not the child.
We need to stop celebrating rape in this country. Violent rape of an adult and statutory rape are all cases of rape and we must call it what it is. Our mindset about sexuality in this country needs radical change. We don’t celebrate murder or armed robbery with a party, so why are we holding baby showers for underage girls, who if they are pregnant for an adult, are clear victims of statutory rape?
Why are we shielding these grown men, refusing to reveal their identities to the authorities? The previous administration raised the maximum sentence for statutory rape to life in prison, yet we see Supreme Court Justices who feel that decades in prison is too severe a sentence for child sexual abuse.
I submit that the reason for this is that in The Bahamas we devalue children and women. The rape of a child is not a big deal to us unless the rape results in the death of that child – then suddenly it is a tragedy. But otherwise, statutory rape and child molestation in this country – two of world’s most heinous crimes – are so much of an accepted thing in The Bahamas either through our cloaking of the crime or our refusal to see it as a crime at all, that we see a life sentence for the guilty party as too harsh.
When you sexually violate someone, you have taken a soul, so spending the rest of your soul in prison is at the very least, fair. Most victims never learn how to live a “normal” life after what has happened to them. They don’t “grow out of it”. The kind of mental, physical, psychological and spiritual damage caused by a child’s innocence being taken often requires a lifetime of help for those fortunate enough to get that kind of help.
But most victims, females and males, never get help. They have to learn to live with that guilt, shame and confusion. Why do you think some people turn to drugs and alcohol or other destructive behaviours in life? They are trying to numb the pain they cannot erase. They are trying to silence the voices in their head that tell them the abuse was their fault, and that they are worthless and useless because of what has happened to them.
Some of these same well-dress, “big-named” persons in our country who we praise and honour are rapists and child predators. Some of our beloved pastors, educators and public officials are heroes to you and I, but monsters to their young victims. How can a nation prosper when it hides such a thing the way we do?
We are organising marches against murder and police brutality. What about the murder of a young child’s body and spirit? Who cries for them? Who marches for them? Who cares enough to go to the police and report the crimes we know are happening next door to us, but instead we say “I een wan get in dat”? Who fights to rescue a child from the horror of being abused?
We need to begin prosecuting statutory rape in our country whether or not the child’s parents wish to press charges. When a person is murdered, no one needs to press charges – a crime has happened and so the police must investigate that crime and bring the perpetrators to justice. Well, if an underage girl turns up pregnant, a refusal to reveal the identity of the father on the part of parents or guardians should be viewed as obstruction of justice and be handled in that way.
This is one of the ways we can begin to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves, because a child who is already a victim of incest, molestation or rape will almost never get protection from a parent if that parent already knows what is happening and is either hiding it or encouraging it for money. Adult men don’t take “jailbait” seriously because almost none of them ever go to jail for having sex with a minor, and most of them rarely see the inside of a courtroom for incest or molestation.
A Child is Not Sexy
The word sexy means sexually suggestive or stimulating. Can you tell me what could possibly be sexually stimulating about a six-year-old or a 12-year-old? Yet mothers dress their daughters, parade them around and we say, “chile she too sexy”. That is representative of our ignorance and backwards mentality about sexuality and what is appropriate and inappropriate with respect to the same.
The problem is that to a paedophile, a child is sexy – hence his or her sickness. We need to stop trying to turn our children into adults, let them be children and stop exposing them to things that are beyond their age – that includes the slack practice by many mothers of having sex in front of or in the same room with their children. And we need to pay attention to what children are engaged in online. I can name at least two major Bahamian Facebook groups right now, with tens of thousands of Bahamian youth as members, whose content is so pornographic it is unbelievable.
Children are posting naked pictures of themselves, pictures of them and other young people having sex, they are soliciting sex, raising discussions about every sex act imaginable, and this is happening all day, every day. If the Commissioner of Police was truly serious about illicit postings on social media, these groups would have been dealt with years ago because child pornography is rampant therein and the majority of the posters are minors and young adults.
Parents, please pay attention to the signs that your child is being abused. They include: withdrawal from friends or usual activities; changes in behaviour such as aggression, anger, hostility or hyperactivity or changes in school performance; depression, anxiety or a sudden loss of self-confidence; frequent absences from school; reluctance to go home or go to the home of a relative, attempts at running away; rebellious or defiant behaviour or attempts at suicide.
Younger children may act out sexual abuse through play with their dolls or with other children. If you see a young child simulating a sex act, they are acting out something that has either been done to them or that they have seen.
If you suspect or fear someone may have violated your child, experts suggest that you talk to your child directly; pick the time and place carefully; have the conversation somewhere that your child feels comfortable and do not ask your child about abuse in front of the person you think may be abusing your child.
Ask your child if anyone has been touching them in ways that don’t feel okay or that make them feel uncomfortable, ask in a nonjudgmental way, take care to avoid shaming or frightening your child as you ask questions and assure your child that you won’t allow their abuser to hurt them anymore.
It is a conversation no parent ever wants to have with their child, but it is a conversation that needs to happen in homes all over this country. And as the answers emerge, parents and guardians need to develop the courage to do what is right for their children. Stop the secrets and stop the lies because all over the Commonwealth of The Bahamas children are dying, while we are lying.