By JEFFARAH GIBSON
Tribune Features Writer
Social media has become the new playground for child predators, who sit behind the computer, watch their prey in cyberspace and then make a move to connect. Likes, comments and post shares are like candy – they appear innocent at first, but are used as bait to reel in the unsuspecting minor.
It is a route predators have been taking to drawn in and assault young Bahamian girls, according new crime statistics released by the Royal Bahamas Police Force last week.
“Young females are being targeted via social media and taken to the western area of New Providence and sexually assaulted,” said Police Commissioner Paul Rolle. “There were two incidents that occurred during this period. The family liaison section at the Critical Investigation Department conducted a total of 68 family meetings, 119 follow-ups and 72 referrals for counselling.”
Sex educator, author, and youth and women’s activist Denise Major told Tribune Woman the statistics on sexual offences and predators do not paint the full picture.
“Although we focus on young girls, our boys are victims also, preyed upon by both men and women. We need to acknowledge that predators are both men and women. These predators see these young people as another notch on their belts. They get to know these children and use their vulnerabilities against them,” she said.
“Teenage years are very confusing and can be overwhelming, and it doesn’t take much for a predator to manipulate a child.”
As a sex educator, Ms Major said she hears first-hand of the instances of sexual assault on young girls.
“We have been hearing these stories for a very long time and they are very common. We make light of these situations and talk about them as though they are the norm,” she said.
“When a girl is reported as missing no one even blinks an eye anymore and the attitude is that she is to some man’s house – a man that is older, smarter and who is able to manipulate this child’s feelings and emotions. We villainize these girls, but do not hold the grown men that prey upon them accountable. We hear about the bus drivers and the school girls, the girls who are subjected to cat calls and unwanted touches from the young men on the blocks as they go to and from school. We know of youth leaders and even teachers, pastors and even law enforcement that have been accused of allegedly preying on and having inappropriate relationships with both girls and boys.
“Just last year, a 27-year-old police officer was charged with unlawful sex with a 15-year-old. Unfortunately, I am not too surprised by these stories anymore. I am more surprised when our young people and their families take a firm stand and speak out against these predators, and I applaud them for their strength and courage.”
Ms Major said there is a tendency in the Bahamas to vilify young women for being sexually assaulted, however, the onus must always be on the adult who manipulates these children by pretending to show affection. Many Bahamian youngsters, she believes, lack adequate love and attention.
“They make these children feel loved and wanted, and it’s a boost to one’s ego that someone who they consider to be so important would want to be in a relationship them. They fulfil financial needs of these children, and in some cases their families, which may be why some of these incidents drag on for so long. In this COVID-19 climate, when more and more families are losing jobs and sources of income, this is something that will rise,” she said.
Ms Major said a major part of the problem is that under Bahamian law sexual predators are not sufficiently held accountable for their actions.
“We need to call these situations what they are, which is rape; harbouring a minor, assaulting them... stop prettying it up. As the adult you know better; we all know better. And in the rare chance that (these predators) are charged and found guilty, the sentence is laughable. We need to further strengthen our legislation as it relates to this also. When these predators get these light sentences ranging from one to seven years it is not a deterrent. One year in jail is not enough for violating a child; three to seven years is not enough for engaging in inappropriate relationships with underage girls,” she said.
In addition to stricter laws and longer sentences, Ms Major said parents can also help mitigate the problem by being more active in their children’s lives, having honest conversations about the dangers that exist and policing their kids’ social media activity.
“Parents can enable the security settings on the devices that their children use. Monitor these devices and do random checks of their social media pages and accounts, et cetera. We should have some idea of what our children are doing on the internet and who they are talking to. Check the device history. There are apps that can be downloaded to do pretty much anything on these devices,” she said.
“When I hear children say that their parents do not have access to their devices, that blows my mind. We need to be parents. Yes, it’s exhausting and children can possibly circumvent measures that we have in place, but we have to do all that we can and if we feel that we are struggling we need to enlist the help of others.”