Our society makes it is difficult for people to admit that they were abused because victims are often manipulated into believing that they are blameworthy. Victims of sexual abuse are often dismissed or quieted and this culture makes it difficult for them to speak. Why is there so much effort to protect abusers? This society thrives on keeping up appearances, while horrors, such as the destruction of young and vulnerable people, are often ignored.
It was recently alleged that Coen Jackson, a teacher at Bishops’ High School, groomed and had sexual relations with a number of his female students over the span of his teaching career. It is alleged that he strategically waited until they reached the age of consent before convincing them to have sexual relations with him. There have been reports from several schools where he taught. Jackson, however, has denied the allegations, although he has also admitted to having sexual relationships with two former students.
He is not the first accused nor will he be the last and the hopefully the outrage that the story has generated encourages the victims of predators to speak out.
After the allegations were made public, the headmistress of the Bishops’ High School Winifred Ellis rebuked the female students at an assembly (the boys had been excused) and told them they were “slack and loose” and wrong for not defending the “good teacher.”
Outraged liked so many others, I joined the protest in front of the Bishops’ High School and the Ministry of Education. It is appalling that no parents seemed concerned enough to show their support to the people who are only concerned about the wellbeing of their children. Maybe they too believe that their children are “slack and loose”? It is also amazing that teachers who observed the protestors seemed angry by what was happening. And the fact that there are those who seem more concerned about the prestige of the school rather than the wellbeing of young women is devastating.
On one side, there are those who are shouting for change, for an investigation, for casting out of all predators, despite how “good” they might be at their jobs, and saving our children.
Then there are those on the other side who choose to blame the victims. They are those who insult concerned citizens who are seeking to lay a foundation for victims to feel confident that if they speak up, they will not be victimised again, slut shamed and looked at with scorn. It is sad that some cannot seem to discern the differences between relationships between adolescents and their peers and adults who manipulate and abuse them. Many seem to believe that the majority of young women are “slack and loose.” Many seem to believe that because there are those young people who, often because of the lack of parental guidance, broken homes and a cycle of abuse, engage in sexual relationships with each other, that a teacher who may have used his authority to take advantage of the vulnerable is himself a victim. Even if young women or young men express a romantic or sexual interest in a teacher, it is the teacher’s responsibility to shun it and establish the boundaries.
Am I also “slack and loose” because I am outraged by allegations of a teacher abusing his power? Must I suppress my outrage because it makes others uncomfortable? Am I “slack and loose” because I believe that any individual guilty of grooming young people for their selfish pleasure should be named, shamed and prosecuted? Am I “slack and loose” because I believe we should not keep silent? Am I “slack and loose” because I believe that it is time for a transformation in Guyana? A time when we must loudly sound our voices to end the culture of silencing victims; a time when we must abolish the practice of covering up for predators; and when excusing their behaviour and berating the victims must become a thing of the past!
Am I “slack and loose” because I am tired of young people being criticised and ostracised? Often, the ones who failed them are also the ones pointing the fingers at them–the absentee parents, the parents who fail to establish trusting relationships with their children and others who believe that it is the rod that molds a child. (How constant beatings alone in the name of discipline are expected to work in raising healthy human beings I cannot comprehend). Then there are those who are trusted to impart knowledge, but within that group exist those with wicked intentions. It is very easy for young people to be misled and manipulated, especially when they are vulnerable.
It is sad that a section of the population agrees that indeed young, impressionable people, who have not yet fully developed psychologically, are slack and loose. They dismiss the fact that many of them have had little or no comprehensive sex education because in many Guyanese households sex is not spoken about openly. Where are many of them learning about sex? The internet? The music? Each other?
People naturally becoming more aware in their teens of what it means to be sexual beings but that gives no adult the permission or the right to abuse or take advantage of them to excuse their depravity and paedophilia.
We have kept too quiet for too long about this issue. The people who defend predators and loathe the victims are despicable. Yes, we know that investigations have to be done and we must abide by the law to prove whether a person is innocent or guilty, but what I am observing is that there are those who believe that the possibility of what is alleged about Jackson and his students could in no way be true. Why is it not the other way around for those who choose to stand in defence of the man? Why is their first instinct not to defend the students?
It is amazing that the adjectives we often use to describe other people are the ones that are most suited to describe us. The headmistress called the young women “slack and loose.” Isn’t her opinion on the matter “slack and loose” because she seems to have no compassion for potential victims? Our society is also slack and loose because of how we treat victims. The time to change that culture is now.