Sexual Assault Activists Sound Off to Change Jamaica's Rape Culture

A tambourine seems like an unlikely tool for activism, but that’s exactly what it is for a Jamaica-based movement.

|
Jun 26 2017, 8:59pm

Jamaica has a troubling history of normalizing rape culture that makes any sort of mobilization against it difficult. Jamaica's police allegedly resolve only half of reported sexual violence cases. As activist groups become more outspoken about LGBTQ issues in a country that possesses homophobic attitudes, the Tambourine Army is an outlier among the country's advocacy community working to dismantle those rigid ideas.

Their group centers on working alongside survivors to provide resources, create safe spaces and facilitate healing-based programming, including self-defense training, legal education, healing circles, public speaking workshops and yoga sessions.

The origins of the Tambourine Army come from LGBTQ activist Latoya Nugent, who along with 14 other activists confronted a local pastor who had allegedly raped a 15-year-old girl. Armed with nothing but the musical instrument, Nugent struck the pastor during a church service. The confrontation was a protest to let people know that combating issues of sexual violence needed to be taken more seriously in Jamaica, and that the Army wasn't messing around.

"For too long we've been silent about abuse and people shaming and blaming victims."

"The Army is significant because we wanted to signal to Jamaica that we are going to war against the perpetrators," Nugent told VICE Impact, "For too long we've been silent about abuse and people shaming and blaming victims."

Aside from being a throwback bop from the iconic rapper Eve, the tambourine is a biblical staple and used in many Christian communities during praise and worship. It comes as no shock that Nugent would use the instrument meant for ecstatic worship as a holy weapon of rebuke. The organization now employs several noisemakers, including whistles, pots and pans, to sound off on the rape culture that goes widely unchecked in the Jamaican society.


Check out some more video from Broadly:


As a women's rights organization, the group has made intersectional feminism the foundation of their gender-based advocacy platform.

"I realized that there are people out there that believe that some of these issues only affect cis-gendered straight women "

"I identify as a lesbian, and I recall one media personality in Jamaica complaining that they had a problem with me twinning my sexual identity to the issue of violence against women and children," Nugent said. "I realized that there are people out there that believe that some of these issues only affect cis-gendered straight women. If [sexual violence] is something that's experienced by a lesbian or a bisexual woman, somehow the crime does not become as serious anymore."

To curb this, the Tambourine Army is calling for social, cultural and policy-related changes to shift the perception of sexual violence in Jamaica and enforce more preventative measures. They shared calls-to-action in their 20-point action plan during the Survivor Empowerment March held earlier this year.

In February, the group officially submitted recommendations to Jamaica's parliament about the country's Sexual Offenses Act, a piece of legislation that sought to define provisions for "the prosecution of rape and other sexual offenses." Currently, the legislation is under review and the Tambourine Army is demanding that the current legally lax term 'sexual grooming' be redefined to have stronger language. Also, according to Nugent, there should be "a provision in the Sexual Offenses Act, or somewhere, that provides some amount of reparations for a survivor."

The group is pressuring CISOCA (Centre For Investigation Of Sexual Offenses & Child Abuse) to modify how people report sexual crimes. The current process forces survivors to repeat their encounter on multiple occasions, which is not a survivor-friendly method.

"It should be an environment for survivors to want to report and feel like they will get justice," Nugent said

In 2016, Unicef Jamaica reported on statistics from Jamaica's Office of the Children's Registry stating only one of ten adults who are made aware of sexual violence towards a child report it. It becomes even more pressing when the cases that do get reported hardly get convictions.

"We want to see more vigilance in how investigations are done to ensure that by the time the case gets to court the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions would have a strong or solid case and we can get more convictions," Nugent told VICE Impact.

The Tambourine Army co-founder believes that the cost of healing should not be wholly be placed on the survivors.

"There has to be some room in our legislation where we demand that perpetrators and convictions bare the cost related to the crime that they would have committed against a woman or a child," Nugent says.

Their demands are hard to argue with considering the emotional, physical, and financial burden survivors have to deal with while they try to recover from these traumatic incidents. They have suggested that organizations that work with survivors should have sensitivity training, and have even offered to facilitate it.

"Some survivors will actually talk about feeling like they are being victimized all over again by the court system," Nugent said. "We want the state to tidy up all of that and ensure that survivors feel empowered enough and feel confident enough to report so when the case goes to the court, the hearings won't revictimize them."

"We have to start believing them and we have to place their wellbeing ahead of the reputation of perpetrators."

What's most important to the Tambourine Army is trying to shift conversations of how sexual violence is discussed—and not discussed—within Jamaican society. If they can alter public opinion on the subject, they will ultimately alter the treatment and response to victims and survivors too.

"We have to start believing them and we have to place their wellbeing ahead of the reputation of perpetrators," Nugent said. "When we believe survivors and we take action, would-be perpetrators will learn that we are no longer shielding them."

They also hope their efforts adjust how the country handles activists. In March, Nugent was arrested—for charges now dropped—under the Cybercrimes Act for "use of computer for malicious communications" when she revealed the names of men who were allegedly sexual predators. It was reportedly "the first time the Cybercrimes Act was used to target a human rights defender," she said. While in custody, other Tambourine Army co-founders reported Nugent was not granted medical attention when she fell ill.

"The Jamaican state does not have a comprehensive understanding of how it should treat and engage with human rights defenders" who simply have a desire to "defend the rights of citizens and help to hold the government accountable," Nugent said.

If you believe that sexual assault victims in Jamaica deserve justice you can support the efforts of The Tambourine Army. All financial aid goes directly back to funding the cost of their mission. Make your mark by amplifying their sound, and speak out against sexual aggression in your hometown.