For Leonard

Unknown to most of us before the tragic events of last week, Leonard Archibald’s face is now etched in the memories of many, indeterminately.

A face of love, of innocence and a future now erased, who knows what he could have been? We could paint any picture of the man he could have become. We could imagine him arriving home safely on Sunday, September 17th, on his bicycle and relatives being happy to see him. We could imagine him and his sisters reminiscing on the birthday party they had just attended. We could imagine him getting dressed on Monday morning for school and making his way to the institution of learning to move one step closer to his dreams. We could imagine these things to replace the anger and the pain that many of us have been feeling for days and the tears we would have shed.

Leonard’s death has made us confront the fact once more that many of Guyana’s children are not safe. There is evil in this world and every so often it is not far from home. We could debate whether men are born evil or are made evil by their experiences or are controlled by some unseen force that some may assign a name and others would dismiss, but in the end Leonard is dead; his aspirations and his dreams expired somewhere in the cold waters of the Berbice River, gone forever or maybe on hold for another lifetime, if we do live again.

Who is to blame? Many have criticised the community where he lived and, yes, its culpability cannot be dismissed. His death will also no doubt haunt those who lived in the vicinity where the alleged rape that led to Leonard’s murder took place; those who reportedly heard his screams but chose to ignore them.

This tragedy has also forced many of us into introspection about our actions or lack thereof in addressing those known predators in our society. And yes, over the course of my life I have known a few. As children, many of us were warned not to answer when certain ‘big men’ called us for candy or money. We knew of men staring at youngsters in their school uniforms, and the rumours about those who from appearances seemed decent but held secret or not so secret desires for the innocence of the innocent. Sadly, often it is the members of their own families that bring harm to children. And yet, many have kept quiet or have looked the other way due to the shame, lack of evidence, some irrational duty to protect the guilty, fear or our own burdens, all which compromise our vigilance. How many times have we heard or said, “I minding me own business.” There are also many who have collected bribes as the price for innocence as well as the system that sees some abusers who have been prosecuted serve some unsatisfactory sentence, only to be released to molest again.

Leonard’s death reminds us that many Guyanese children are suffering daily because of sexual abuse. Many never speak of it because they want to forget. It is difficult listening to the stories of loved ones who would share – what do you say, how do you react when it was not your experience but empathy compels you to recreate snippets of their hurt? Rage often consumes them and sometimes manifests in destructive ways, such as substance abuse, self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Some are dead long before they end up in the morgue.

Many are still terrified when they encounter their abusers, even years after it would have ended; they are little boys and the little girls who are physically men and women, but still have not grown past what has happened to them. But many must forgive, not for the benefit of the abusers because they often remain unchanged, but to save themselves from lunacy.

We have come here again and we will wait for justice again. Slowly, Leonard will not be so prominent in the minds of many of us, but as time slips by we will remember him occasionally. Unfortunately, I fear that the silence will continue and many will forget that child molesters need to be named and shamed and everything that is humanly possible needs to be done to remove them from the spaces where they can harm children. But I am hoping, that we make some progress. The over four hundred cases of child sexual abuse reported for the first half of this year is not only disturbing but indicates that perhaps we have started to break the silence. I hope that Leonard’s death will inspire those who hush the children or fear embarrassment, who would rather keep up appearances to desist from such postures, that we will not only gossip about those men and women who are guilty of terrorising the innocent, but that we will do whatever we can to save even only one child.

I hope that Leonard’s death will inspire an ongoing protest for justice for Guyana’s children who have been hurt and often destroyed by sexual violence. I hope the justice system will work in favour of the victims one hundred percent of the time and that the mental health specialists will continue to work tirelessly to figure out why the predators of Guyana exist. Were they also victims of child sexual abuse? Are they inflicting pain because in them is some undying pain? Are they just evil? Or is it a combination of many things.

Our children do not deserve to be destroyed. Too often the abusers drive fear into the children they hurt or confuse them with what appears as kindness and love as they groom them to make them their victims For those children, hell is very real.

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