[F]or most Jamaica is an idyllic picture of sunshine and reggae music, attracting millions of tourists every year, but hidden behind the guise of a tropical paradise, child sex abuse on the island is endemic.
A collaboration between young photographer Sirius Film’s ‘GDC Project’ & crochet clothing label Knots & Vibes, the aim is to raise awareness of the deep rooted culture of sexual abuse affecting countless girls and young women in Jamaica.
According to the CVC coalition, 40% of Jamaicans say their first sexual experience was forced and while they were under the age of consent. Most of the time the perpetrator is someone close to the victim – a family member, neighbour or authoritative figure. Due to ‘anti-informer’ culture, sexual abuse often goes unreported and in the cases that are – limited resources and coordination means there are rarely any repercussions. It is an issue that families often ‘sweep under the carpet’ so as to avoid embarrassment or attention – sometimes the mother was abused herself as a young girl and therefore normalises the behaviour, turning a blind eye at her own child’s suffering.
Driven by poverty and lack of employment opportunities it is common place for underage girls to be groomed into sexual relationships. Tempted with gifts, free taxi rides and cash, it is sometimes encouraged or even initiated by their own parents who see it as a legitimate way to survive. Even more disturbingly, this is not limited to pubescent girls – shockingly there are reports of children as young as two years old being found with multiple STIs, the only tangible proof of their abuse.
Although the Jamaican government has embarked on awareness campaigns to encourage victims to speak out and break the cycle, they are often confined to the larger cities and don’t reach the rural communities where the abuse is most abundant. There are several ideas as to why sexual abuse is so prevalent in Jamaica, from the repercussions of slavery to the lack of mental health understanding and support and victims growing up to abuse others – it is an issue that demands education, a shift in cultural attitudes and most desperately, an effective justice system and social care system.
We spoke to three young Jamaican women about their experiences of child sex abuse and how it has impacted their lives. To help, you can donate to non-profit organisation Woman Inc and their women’s shelter in Jamaica.