The Cost of $exual Abuse and Rape
Published: Sunday | July 3, 2011
Kevin O'Brien Chang, Contributor

I recently had a talk with Marie Sparkes, director of Pure Potential LLC Jamaica, whose company has been strategically getting our Jamaican society at all levels to deal more seriously with the terrible problem of childhood sexual abuse and rape.

"According to the Child Development Agency, sexual assault was the most common reason for children to be taken to hospital. Children under age 10 account for 17 per cent of all sexual assault cases, and children between 10 and 19 account for 57 per cent of all sexual assaults. British statistics show that almost one in five women will experience sexual assault in her lifetime, and that the minimum cost of violence against women and girls in the UK is £37.6 billion. We can only wonder what the cost is to Jamaica, as no conclusive economic research has been conducted.

If Jamaica is to improve our unenviable situation of being sixth in the world for carnal abuse and rapes in peacetime (, we must take a multilayered approach to tackling the problem.

First, our professionals who come in contact with the phenomenon need to seriously acknowledge how widespread this situation is in Jamaica. Only when we can painfully accept that our basket is full of dirty laundry can we begin to meticulously prepare for a full 'wash day'. We have to get new soap with more strength and apply more vigour. This soap has an unusually long name - it's called forensic evidence collection.

In the last 20 years, countries dealing seriously with sexual abuse have incorporated a forensic evidence-based approach, allied with traditional support, to prepare our victims for the professional management of sexual abuse and sexual assault.

Forensic evidence collection is not rocket science, and every helping professional in Jamaica will benefit from understanding the process of a methodical and planned-for intervention in the management of rape and sexual assault.

trauma counselling

The process of care and attention is paramount to victims of sexual abuse and assault, as their well-being is the first focus. Medical care, trauma counselling, and in the case of sexual assault, a range of interventions for pregnancy prevention, STI treatment and wound management are of high importance.

Lead forensic evidence expert Douglas McCaffery, who has been training professionals in Jamaica since the beginning of the year, says Jamaica has many qualified social workers who are well trained to play a major role in assisting the welfare of victims. Professionals need to plan as if they are definitely going to meet one or two survivors, and one or two perpetrators per day. Planning that is evident to the client shows that we are ready. They will see our posters, feel our openness, and know we are prepared. Practitioners and supporters, don't be afraid: listen and hear, no matter what emotions their story churns up in our stomachs. Remember, we are all still human beings.

All we see and hear can be noted with a view to the victim making a formal complaint if she desires and a police investigation being launched if required. It is not up to us to make a judgement if victimised women choose not to make a formal complaint.

Many victims do not want their 'assault' reported to the police and there are many reasons for this. Embarrassment; the assailant is known to them; and fears of the justice system are the main ones. Either way, a rape or sexual abuse victim, or her family, on their behalf, must decide. But initial care and attention can assist in alleviating fears if a victim decides to proceed with a complaint.

Let victims know what they will face, such as:

A medical examination for evidentiary purposes;

Enquiry by the police, including having to repeat their story over and over, and then having to face the accuser in a court trial

Telling their story and having it challenged by defence counsel. (Let them know this can be a very frightening experience).

Going through a process to capture evidence for an investigation must be practised from the outset. Supporters of human rights in Jamaica and the victims of sexual abuse and rape who wish to rely on forensic evidence collection need to understand that there are a number of good reasons for this.

First, adhering to the principles of evidence management is paramount to ensuring that there can be no contamination of samples. DNA is a fine science. However, it has been proven worldwide that improper management of samples can see contamination take place and cause the sample to lose its evidentiary value.

Second, the chain of custody of the evidence must be secured and legally protected in any investigation and eventual trial of a suspect. If these principles are not adhered to, the 'evidence' can be deemed inadmissible and lead to a failed prosecution.


Fully introducing forensic evidence collection after sexual assault to Jamaica and to a wider cross section of professionals will have major pay-off. If this evidence is collected in the proper manner, chain-of-custody principles are adhered to, and a 'watertight case' is presented to the court, there is a high probability that the accused will make the guilty plea. This will alleviate the necessity of pain for a victim, who otherwise would have to tell of the crime committed against them, again and again.

Here is a quick guide for the person who has been raped (recently or historically, in their childhood).

1. Carefully select the people who you want to support/advocate this difficult issue.

2. Don't rely solely on persons from one place, ie not just persons from work, school, church, unions, or officials, to handle or investigate your rape.

3. Treat your support persons well. Remember, the friends who are helping you are also probably feeling very upset and frightened by what you're going through.

4. At the first sign of trouble, or even before you run into trouble, ask a good friend, a good advocate or an authority to sit down and talk with the person or persons who you think may be a problem.

5. Keep a notebook. It's virtually impossible to keep track of all the information, names, phone numbers, case numbers, appointments, and legal terms that will come flooding over you as you deal with the rape.

6. Take time to think things out. Prepare before getting on the phone or walking into a meeting that deals in any way with the rape, whether with family, associates, or officials.

The best way to do all this is to take time to think 15 minutes before any meeting or take five minutes before any phone call.

If you are the parent of a victim of child sexual abuse or a mandated reporter of child abuse, do not rely solely on Protective Services to assist and investigate. You must be the active party for your child.

Get all your questions answered as soon and as accurately as possible. Unanswered questions create intense anxiety for rape victims.

Don't continue to confront the people who are mistreating you, even if you think the person is your friend.

Never make final, on-the-spot decisions on important matters on the phone or in meetings. Ask questions, and tell the person or official that you're going to think it over and that you'll get back to them.

For you to gain greater professional insight, or to gain advocate knowledge to assist persons in your community, you can register for Pure Potential's First Response Training of The Professional Management of Sexual Abuse in Kingston for five consecutive Fridays, July 1-29, 12 p.m.-4 p.m. Details are available on website, or call (876) 476-1724.

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