What We Must Start In Order to Stop Jamaican Femicide (See Census Idea)

o-violence-against-women-facebookToday, an anti-violence campaign requesting  Jamaican women and all citizens to wear black clothing for a public show of solidarity and protest against recent murders committed against women and girls in the island gathered some support in pockets across the island.

People on social media have also been putting antiviolence message filters around their profiles and posting Stop Violence Against Women memes. A street protest was also planned. 

Let me say, I wholeheartedly endorse and support any stand taken to increase awareness about violence against women and girls that seems to have grown in momentum since December, moving from domestic to something more sinister and serial in appearance and odour.

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As I pause to grieve over the latest image of a partly nude female body with bloody puncture wounds all over her chest and upper torso, it leaves me frustrated that these murders are happening everywhere across the island now, have been happening repeatedly in seasons, but only few are being solved by the police. As a woman’s body is found, the news elicits loud public outcry and then goes deafeningly quiet until another spate happens again.

With the majority of murderers still loose, which of us as women can feel safe?

So this pause for thought made me question whether our collective or individual gestures like social media campaigns, colour code protests and even blog posts like this one make a difference.

My conclusion? These can make a difference if they are pressuring the police and government to do more. It can help if the result is more awareness and urgency to take personal safety and security more seriously. But in the end, these are gestures, and require sustained follow up and deeper study to upend the root of the crimes targeting women and any demographic in the country. If violence affects one, it affects all. 

So, at this juncture the dark forces attacking the wombs of this nation demand that we each examine the crime scenes with much more analysis and from different filters in our search for the patterns of killers behind these murders. I say ‘we’ because this introspection must start at all levels to stop the violence. The solution will not be found only in the forensic science toolbox of the police.

My post will look at the psychodynamics surrounding the femicides and gender-based violence in our country and my take on some possible actions we should commit to collectively and individually to tackle these root issues.

The partially decomposing body of 15-year-old schoolgirl, Shineka Gray turned up in bushes in Irwin Meadows, St James about five days after she went missing. She was last seen on January 29 at the Bogue taxi stand.

On Sunday, the body of another  young woman, a Burger King employee was found in a barrel in St Thomas. And even this evening, more news come via WhatsApp that another young woman’s life has been snuffed out

These are the stories that have been populating news reports since the start of December 2016. Two suspects have now been held in connection with Grey’s murder, something  I’m sure offers little solace for the deceased’s family and her community who now mourn.

Out of the discussions swirling around the airwaves, one of the recurring topics that is coming to the forefront is personal safety. As Shenika was last seen at the taxi stand, the discussion has turned to how to stay safe when taking public transport, especially taking unlicensed taxi operators.

START THESE ACTIONS:

  • Download and use the Stay Alert app. This is a free application made available by the Ministry of National Security for citizens to use. Two of its key safety features allow the user to send anonymous reports to the police and make contact when in distress.
  • Facebook Live. If you have the Facebook app, create a Facebook live video for friends once you get into the taxi or anywhere else you are facing a threat.
  • Keep a Taxi diary noting down the license plate number and any other data you can gather about your driver, location picked up and destination. Let your family members know about this diary so should anything happen, you’ll be helping to solve your case. Sounds morbid? That’s how the cookie crumbles.
  • Pay attention. Stay alert to your surroundings. Look at taxi drivers, strangers, anything odd. Do not enter transportation where you are the only commuter. If you are the last one left after others have exited, exit too.
  • Avoid late travel. If you have to, try asking someone you know and trust to come and get you. If you have to take public transport, keep your family or friends updated on your whereabouts at regular intervals depending on the length of the ride.
  • I propose something that has become cliche these days, and to which we turn deaf ears, and it’s as simple as this. We, each of us, must start to be each other’s keepers. Not just for girls and women, but for our neighbours. Watch out for others.
  • Pepper spray, sharp implement, some strategic defence moves? These will all come in handy. Leave a wound. Scream. Fight for your life.

So let’s turn to the factors that may be contributing to violence against women and what we should start doing to stop femicides, beyond the crime plan.

Start boycotting Brands Whose Ads Glorify Violence

We as a society have to accept we have played a role in sleazy gender profiling and violence. We may not be the ones physically slitting, slicing, raping and stabbing women

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but do you know that buying into advertisements such as the ones above glorify violence against women by making light of rape, domestic violence, and other misogynistic violence or profile them as sexual objects, we are not as blameless as we’d like to believe.

What are little boys made of?

Marginalised men.

Failing men.

No good men.

More women graduated this year than men.

How many times this year have you seen or heard these phrases on your radio or television? Lots. Repeatedly over the last 10 years, I have been audience to these public castigations of our Jamaican males. 

While there is plenty data to support the perception that many of our men are cruel, prison birds, poor fathers, cheats, lazy and uneducated men and many of our women are progressive, hard working, victims, and independent, perhaps it’s time to realise that we have unintentionally or intentionally planted an impression that men are less worthy and important.

It’s a question begging to be asked: Could the current increase in femicide in the country be the curse of the chickens coming home to roost?

Could our acculturalization that little girls are made of sugar and spice and all that’s nice, and little boys (men) are made of horrid snails and puppy dog tails have set up a fixed mindset in our males that has lowered their sense of self-worth and increased envy towards women?

CONCLUSION: It is quite plausible that the increase in stress levels in the society, female leadership, increasing financial independence of women and the perception of low male inequality and worth has helped create angry men who are now exacting their dominance recovery revenge on their girlfriends, daughters, wives, female colleagues, strangers, female leaders, and female interests in their countries.

ACTION: Make the gender playfield equal for men and women again. While we will always see antisocial behaviours, with some effort we can emphasize and communicate a more positive image about the Jamaican man and showcase more good male models. The media can level the playfield with more balanced discussions, more male presence on panels so the male perspective is heard. 


The Disorders that Make Men Hate, Hurt and Kill Women

It’s time to look beyond the obvious to the root of femicide, the psycho-dynamics or pathology of the criminal who kills women.

Pathology is the study of a particular subject- a disease. It is the diagnosis of an abnormality through careful examination of the constituents of the diseased body. When crime is considered to be a disease, the psychodynamic elements manifest and is precipitated as/by disorder and disruption of existing social norms and values. It is precipitated by mental illness, stress, disorganization in society, and anti-social psychopathological mindsets.

And many times, the first signs appear in behaviour patterns during childhood and youth and left unattended transition into adulthood. One homicide researcher, Vernon Geberth has found a clear link between early manifestations of antisocial personality disorder in the childhood of some serial killers.

According to the DSM-IV, the essential feature of the disorder is to be found in patterns of irresponsible and antisocial behaviors beginning in childhood or early adolescence and continuing into adulthood. Lying, stealing,truancy, vandalism, initiating fights, running away from home, and physical cruelty are typical childhood signs. In adulthood the antisocial pattern continues …

Geberth’s article entitled Psychopathic Sexual Sadists: The Psychology and Psychodynamics of Serial Killers (1995) discussed a study which examined a population of 387 serial murderers, who killed (under various motivations), three or more persons over a period of time with cooling-off periods between the events. The author identified 232 male serial murderers who violated their victims sexually. The author then employed a case history evaluation protocol based upon the DSM-IV criteria of Antisocial Personality Disorder (301.7) and Sexual Sadism (302.84) to examine the population of 232 serial killers, who had violated their victims sexually. The research found certain pattern among killers with Antisocial Personality Disorder.

With findings like this, we are forced to confront the pressing question that is begging to be asked: What quality of parenting allowed these boys to run amok and untreated with these behaviours? Why were these red flags ignored?

Still another expert has also identified the role of parents in the pathology of boys who hate and hurt women. In this case, British psychotherapist, Adam Duke author of “Why Men Hate Women” puts the responsibility for boy’s misogynistic behaviours squarely at the feet of their mothers. In an interview with The Independent, Duke explained that a boy’s hatred against his mother usually begins in infancy when a perception of rejection leads to him later punishing women for not providing the perfect love experienced in infancy before he had to make the psychological separation necessary to ‘learn’ to become a man.

Another study from the University of Montreal has linked boys’ aggression and anti-social behaviour to their mothers. The study established that boy’s testesterone levels in infancy were “not inherited genetically” as widely believed, “but rather determined by environmental factors, mostly early environmental factors which the child experiences in relation to its mother both before and after birth,” the lead researcher reportedly divulged in the May 7, 2012 report published in Psychoneuroendocrinology.

CONCLUSION: Too many of our men have been socialised poorly. Many have been emotionally neglected by their mothers soon after being weaned. Poor parenting and unstructured homes have helped created boys who hurt and kill women in adulthood. The red flags were there, but for some reason were seen as inconsequential. Except that now we are reaping the whirlwind of these antisocial behaviours.

START SOME ACTION: So much for the saying, Boys will be boys. This finding will make it necessary for mothers to start scrutinising how they behave around their sons. Parenting education and economic support have to become a priority so Jamaican mothers with troubled boys can gain access to early psychotherapy and parenting interventions if we intend to change the trajectory of these boys before they become men.

Eliminate Male Bias In Classrooms

Some educators believe that single-gender classes and schools, female-dominated classrooms, less attention paid to boys’ learning styles could help promote gender inequity and male marginalisation in our schools. While I have no documented evidence of the gender disparities in Jamaica schools, the education outcomes for boys in this country seem to suggest that girls are advancing and boys are straggling behind. Making our education system equitable for boys and girls have to be a part of the psychodynamics we look at as we contemplate the way forward.

Teacher preparation colleges and churches can also help change the outcomes by upskilling and enabling teachers to teach boys according to their learning styles. Parenting for fathers must be part of the social intervention as well.

Churches have a role to play too in helping with the spiritual development and engagement of males in their communities.

Sexist Cultures Contribute to Femicides -Study

The high rate of sexual harassment in Jamaica, manhandling of women, and the projection and treatment of women as sex objects is often scoffed at as normal male and cultural behaviour. But this next study puts our “sexist cultural practices” under the microscope.

Underscoring the connection between sexism, misogyny, and violence, Rodriguez Gilda, researcher/author of this study: From Misogyny to Murder: Everyday Sexism and Femicide in a Cross-Cultural Context points out that everyday sexism which devalues women does play a role in the culture of violence against women. Gilda had this to say:

 …femicide is not only related to other forms of explicit violence
against women but also to everyday acts of misogyny that contribute
to the creation of a culture of sexism and devalorization of women
and their lives. These everyday sexist acts are often ignored or
minimized, in such a way that their connection to large-scale forms
of violence against women is obscured.

He went on to note that the disconnect between everyday misogyny and femicide in much of popular and media discourse is problematic for two reasons:

the mischaracterization of gender-based murder as simple killing, without a misogynistic component, which makes it difficult to address the root causes of such violence. Secondly, when “small” incidences of sexism occur, they are more easily dismissed as inconsequential and even harmless. My argument is that commonplace sexist practices lay the conditions for femicide and for the political discourse that surrounds it.

CONCLUSION: Sexism and misogynism are root components of gender-based murders.Although we have grown as a society, there are still worrying traits of sexism in our society. We see it being played out in domestic violence and other forms of violence carried against women and girls.

START SOME ACTION: Unmask gender-based murder. The government and leaders of institutions should weed out evidence of sexism in our institutions. The police must treat crimes related to sexism as potential signs of more serious gender-based crimes. Treating the symptoms and addressing the pathology of our crime and criminals becomes mandatory to cinch the problem.

So, how can the police deconstruct the psycho-dynamics of those with a history of violence against women? Read on to see how one country is doing it.

Femicide Census

The Security Minister and Police Commissioner are struggling to fight crime, but I’ve heard little about them collecting and studying the data to develop perpetrator profiles of criminals, including those crimes that are femicides. Maybe, if more data was being collated and tracked, we would connect the dots faster to find the perpetrators of the murder, rape, subjugation, domestic violence, female slave trafficking plaguing our society.

In February 2015, a British campaign group launched a Femicide Census, a database with profiles of every woman who was killed by a man. According to the Guardian newspaper, the campaign initiated by the Nia Project, a London-based domestic violence charity was “designed to force a recognition of the scale and significance of male violence against women.”

The record is a culmination of several years of work by Karen Ingala Smith, Nia Project’s Chief executive, who started counting Britain’s murdered women and putting their names on her own blog back in 2012.

The database collates details of the perpetrators and the murder incident itself, including the date, names, police force area and information about children, recorded motive and the weapon.

The campaign was run in collaboration with another women’s organisation, Womens’ Aid and a legal firm. The Femicide Census Report presented several recommendations aimed at prompting the government to stem the rise of violence against women.  Explains the Guardian:

. . . this will mean a public tally of the dead is kept in a more formal manner, using police statistics as well as court reports. The site will be used to store as much information as possible on the background and the crime, available for approved subscribers – the first time such details have been held together – to make research and studies easier.

Find more details on the content of the released Census here.

CONCLUSION

There’s no question as to whether the Jamaican Police has crime data. We occasionally hear crime statistics reported,  but what is the quality of this database and how thorough it is in capturing all the data remains a mystery to me. How acccessible is it? Then there is the issue of tracking, evaluating  and reporting on that data. A recent request I made to access statistics to  explain the uptick in domestic violence related crimes I was tracking for a blog post late last year did not yield a response from the Constabulary Communication Network. That was after two documented tries in December and January.

START THIS ACTION: I’m calling on the government to lead a Femicide Census to collect and publicise statistics on female victims of male violence. Not just numbers but records  that will put a face to the name and details of her life before she was killed. This will not only provide a record of the incidents and track the patterns that emerge in the murders but humanize these deaths. This kind of action is also necessary in order to move the debate from what some may see as a polarised feminist viewpoint, towards a purposeful search for solutions.

Media Influence

And of course, the silent facilitator in this constructed mayhem is our mass media (including online and social media) who profess to just be society’s mirror. You deflect responsibility very well. But you too are often culpable. Yes, you are our society’s reflector via your news coverage, when you are reporting on events that have occurred. 

But in the arena of programming that mirror role disappears, and in its place stands media as facilitator or enabler. All rhetoric has the ability to persuade and appeal. So whether it’s an opinion programme like a talk show, the lifestyle and entertainment content (music, movies and documentaries) or news items you select and share, media influences its audience. 

For good or evil, the media we tune into and allow our children to absorb  has the capacity to impact how a society interprets and accepts the moral, values and laws of society. Media helps and harms parenting as it could ultimately define the character and behaviour  of those who are part of the audience.

How we use broadcast and social media at the end of day demands responsibility. How does it benefit you to spread videos of someone butchering a woman, show the exposed lifeless body of a young woman or video of child or teen being sexually abused exposed. How is it being responsible when you spread false news about a girl gone missing? What all this exposure does is minimize public trust and promote hopelessness, fear, and inaction.

CONCLUSION

Stopping the violence against women and kids call for an acceptance of personal responsibility for our role in preserving our society. You can start today to work with your spouse and children, your community and state agencies to re-implement law, order, and respect for yourself and others in your part of your city. Love, respect, protect, and preserve the life around you. It starts with me and you.

START RESTORING LOVE, PEACE and ORDER  

  • Take personal safety actions to protect yourself. Avoid unsafe behaviours
  • Be your brothers’ keeper.
  • Make men know they are important and valued. Respect them. Engage their views.
  • Vow to stop perpetuating and facilitating crime, especially with your social media actions and entertainment choices.
  • Choose to help save instead of being a bystander.
  • Help settle disputes, not ignite or fan them.
  • Report signs of violence and victimization of women and girls.
  • Protect all children. Get help when troubled behaviour appears.
  • Start some action to stop gender-based violence and femicide.
  • Examine the psycodynamics of women killers, start using and tracking our crime data for patterns
  • Humanise and respect the dead.
  • Aim to be blameless.


Then, and only then will violence and murders, gender-based and otherwise decline in our communities.

Your Turn

The question I want each of us (parents, teachers, citizens, ministers, government representatives, state protectors, employers, workers, media communicators and users) to ponder today is this:

  • Are you entirely blameless in the gender violence? Are we enabling or helping to perpetuate this mushrooming problem?
  • How will you start taking responsibility at the level, in the space, and in the role you occupy now?
  • What can you do now to stop not only violence against women and girls but violence against the people you come into contact with daily?
  • How do you plan to protect yourself from threats?
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