Sexual assault soars during pandemic, research finds

October 29, 2021

Young people are being sexually abused at an alarming rate during the COVID-19 pandemic, a research conducted by the Northern Caribbean University (NCU) has found.

The study, dubbed An Inquiry into Sexual Assault Among Young Jamaicans, found that nearly four in 10 Jamaicans have been sexually assaulted while complying with official stay-at-home orders issued by the Government under the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA).

The study, which focuses on young Jamaicans between ages 18-30, found that the majority of the persons who have been assaulted are females and that 46 per cent of the sexually assaulted persons indicated that they had been threatened following the sexual encounter.

"It is a huge concern if you look at the numbers, they are staggering and it means that we are having a pandemic on top of the pandemic," said Paul Bourne, the lead researcher.

The Government has used the DRMA to institute lockdowns, curfews and no-movements days as non-clinical methods to slow the spread of COVID-19 throughout the population. Schools have also been closed, for the most part, to face-to-face interactions, forcing children to remain at home and in their communities.

"The pandemic means that no longer can you easily walk into some places and get assistance by the time you walk in. So, if it is that you want assistance on a Sunday, that is a lockdown day. So the pandemic is actually constricting a number of things that people would have done, or opportunities people would have had," Bourne said.

Meanwhile, the researcher sought to explain why the study was not focused on minors who some experts argue are at risk of being sexually abused.

Expressed concern

"Children require ethical clearance from parents - mother and father - so we didn't want to go into that knowing that 50 per cent of our Jamaican children are living with mothers only. That would create a problem trying to track down daddy, but we really know that we need to do a study on the children," the researcher said.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, speaking in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, expressed concern that children were being sexually abused as a result of the suspension of face-to-face classes.

"We took the view that the safest place for the children to be in the pandemic is at home. It may be the case but not all homes are safe. Not all homes nurture their children. Not all homes have children who can read and write," Holness said. "I have got calls about young girls getting pregnant so I have asked for some data as to whether or not we are seeing any rise in teenage pregnancy as a result of children being home, many of them unsupervised."

A disturbing result of the NCU study is that most of the sexual assault is carried out by persons who the victim knows. These include friend/family friend (38.5 per cent) followed by a family member (excluding father/stepfather -25.6 per cent), and father/stepfather (4.5 per cent). 'A stranger' represents 14.7 per cent of the perpetrators, followed by taxi operators (4.5 per cent).

The NCU study further found that 46 per cent of the sexually assaulted persons indicated that they had been threatened following the sexual encounter, 31.6 per cent were physically assaulted, and 52 per cent informed someone of the sexual encounter.

A significant majority of sexually abused persons (95 per cent) did not report the matter to the police, the report said.

"I am forecasting that if this thing continues, what will happen is that we are going to see an increase in suicide, an increase in violent cases among young people because they are frustrated and do not know how to deal with their situation," Bourne told THE WEEKEND STAR.

"They will be taking matters into their own hands, so the individual who rapes or abuses them, they will take the matters in their hands and possible shoot them, possible stab them because no longer can they wait for these things to be addressed. If you look at the findings these things are happening frequently," he said.

The findings of the NCU research is not in line with police data that shows a 28 per cent reduction in incidence of rape islandwide. The police's serious crimes report for January 1 to October 23 shows declines in rape in 16 of the 19 police divisions.

Manchester, where NCU is located, has the worst record with 26 cases, representing a 225 per cent increase over last year's figure. Some 327 cases of rape were recorded across the island over the period compared with 452 over the corresponding period last year.

Bourne said that he has engaged several authoritative bodies, including the police, to see how best they can find solutions to problems identified in the research.

"I share them with the police to let them know that they have to find out what is going on, but it is difficult within the psychology of it for these victims because if it is daddy, brother, cousin and your pastor raping you are going to find it difficult to talk. But we are going to have to find a way for people to have to speak," Bourne said.

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