Countenancing an ugly truth

The poignancy of the recent remark by the Director of the Child Care & Protection Agency (CC&PA) Ann Greene regarding what she says is a high tolerance for the sexual abuse of children in Guyana is as chilling as it is distressing.

As much as the utterance itself, it is the context in which it appears to have been made that arrests attention and raises awkward questions. The last Sunday Stabroek reported that Ms. Greene made the comment “even as she lamented the recent acquittal of a stepfather accused of violating a little girl and the hung jury in the Sade Stoby trial, ”outcomes which, according to Ms. Greene, “you really should be outraged about.” In essence it seemed as if Ms. Greene had decided that she would simply cut to the chase over the outcomes of the legal proceedings that attended the alleged offences and simply speak her mind,

It amounts to a sharp departure from the tendency amongst public officials to perform delicate waltzes around sensitive issues, sometimes talking very little and saying even less. Ms Greene’s pronouncement is deliberate and unambiguous and clearly intended to secure a measure of public attention.

What Ms. Greene appears to want to get across is that as far as the issue of sexual offences against children is concerned we may well be in a condition of serious crisis not just because of the frequency of the offences but because, as a society, we are not doing anywhere near enough to protect our children.

Taken beyond her disappointment with the legal outcomes of the cases alluded to in the Stabroek News article, Ms. Greene’s comment raises questions about our society as a whole, and if it does not cause us to ask serious questions about ourselves, it should.

For truth be told the charge that our high tolerance of sexual offences against children is an integral part of the crisis may carry more weight than we might imagine. Over time, we have been neither as mindful nor as militant as we might have been about frowning on the practices of sexual predators. Indeed, one might argue that, over time, our indifference has emboldened them to a point where they have come to believe that the molestation of children is not really the sort of miscreant behaviour that it is.

Perhaps too, the high tolerance level of which Ms. Greene speaks is reflected in the chronic under-resourcing of those entities that have been set up to help us protect vulnerable children and which are limited in their capacity to respond to a situation that might well be headed in the direction of a crisis.

The sorry tales of violated children begin, frequently, with broken or dysfunctional homes the outcomes of which are, all too frequently, children that are left to fend for themselves, emotionally, and not infrequently, materially, their vulnerability patently apparent to sexual predators. Others still are prisoners in homes where the risk of being defiled might come from assorted ‘visitors’ and short-term ‘uncles’ seeking no more than interludes of twisted gratification.

When all is said and done what Ms. Greene suggests is that our high level of tolerance for the sexual molestation of children is reflected – perhaps more than anywhere else – in the familiar official recitations about outrages and monsters in our midst   and pledges to ‘get tough’ with offenders…the sort of short-term attention getters that so often take us nowhere.

Our tolerance level for child molesters is high because there is an absence of a strong and enduring sense of collective abhorrence attended by a spontaneous outrage and a determination that the guilty must pay.

In the final analysis Ms Greene’s is an admonition that ought to speak to us both individually and collectively, to require us to look inwards. It is an admonition that asks questions of our society, our leaders, our institutions and the rules by which we live. It demands       that our intolerance of child abuse – sexual or otherwise – be sufficiently loud, sufficiently sustained and sufficiently uncompromising to raise the level of risk for those who sexually defile our children.

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