Extra Lesson: Part II

Bible Verses, Tambourines and the Audacity of Woman

Good day fellow Jamaicans. Self-proclaimed bad gyal here carrying some more news for “ya head top” or whatever Drake is saying these days…

On the syllabus for today is the complexity of advocacy, the pursuit of true freedom and a likkle summin’ summin’ about church. I would like to ask you to #PrayForMe, but let’s just get right into it…

Audacity can be defined in two ways; 1) as an unrelenting willingness to take risk, synonymous with fearlessness (of a tenacious nature); or 2) as rude or disrespectful in behaviour.

Not dissimilar to the differences between civil disobedience and illegal action, advocates must tow a constantly blurring line between the first and second definition of audacity. The decision to advocate for victims of societal or even judicial injustice often falls on the victims themselves or members of society with experiences that allow them to not just sympathise but empathise with the victims. Even in the 21st century, the latter role is often occupied by the woman.

For the first time (it feels like- and I’m probably exaggerating a bit) since the gas riots of ’99, civil society engagement has called for a presence in the streets of Kingston and other capitals in the region to renounce what the people have claimed to be unjust. Though only the tip of the work-we-have-to-do iceberg, the organisation of citizens in standing up against violence against women and girls (VAWG) in Jamaica can be deemed successful through its reverberations across the Caribbean and its coverage globally by media outlets such as The Guardian.

You can read about it here.

You can also gain some statistical context on why it’s time we protest VAWG by reading this. #MenCanBeFeministsToo

Since the staging of marches organised to bring attention to the pervasive nature of violence against women in the Caribbean region and Jamaica specifically, Latoya Nugent, a Co-Founder of “Tambourine Army,” “a radical social justice movement committed to uprooting the scourge of sexual violence & safeguarding the rights of women and girls”, was arrested and charged with offenses under the 2015 Cyber Crime Act. Debate has erupted as to the nature of her arrest, the basis for the formation of the civil society group, how Jamaica plans to deal with activism moving forward and so on (bereeee mix up and blender!). The Act though, is possibly the only thing more controversial than her actions.

And here in begins, the Extra Lesson….

Nugent posted names on social media alleging that the individuals were sexual offenders (If it nuh guh suh, it go nearly suh. Anywho….). She was later arrested under article 9 subsection 1 of the Act which states that a person commits an offence if that person; “uses a computer to send to another person any data (whether in the form of a message or otherwise) that is obscene, constitutes a threat, or is menacing in nature; and (b) intends to cause, or is reckless as to whether the sending of the data causes, annoyance, inconvenience, distress, or anxiety, to that person or any other person”.

Let the record reflect: I found myself torn between my supportive instincts as a woman, a feminist and an activist; and my instincts to require from a fellow feminist, activist, woman (and let’s face it, victim of homophobic discrimination), that her actions justify the credibility we have bestowed upon her as an advocate. In other words, I don’t believe what Nugent did was right but I believe her track record as a staunch human rights advocate, as well as the circumstances surrounding her actions, need to be brought into a more nuanced discussion around the case. This not to mention the disconnects between the Cyber Crime Act itself and the Jamaican constitution.

At first glance, the Act achieves the goal of safeguarding individuals against defamation done through less conventional means (than say an article in the Observer). But it begs the question; why isn’t what Nugent did simply being called defamation and how does the Cyber Crime Act seek to do the good work of safeguarding citizens without curtailing freedom of expression (a cornerstone of democracy)? I’ll leave the answering of that to someone more qualified than myself but… The issue I find with the Act is that it in some way curtails the freedom of expression protection for Jamaicans provided by the 2011 Charter of Rights (that virtually replaces the third section of the Jamaican Constitution — which is incredibly challenging to amend and lacks a freedom of speech provision) and thereby; prevents people like Nugent or myself saying what [the] *beep* we want to say without fearing jail time (AKA some dictator style ishhhh).

Let me break that down for the sleepy- eyed- teenager wondering if bumper to squad car (literal fender) pic with the “Bun Babylon” caption from carnival day is going to land them in a cell at Tower Street…

If a newspaper or another institution of the like were to publish an article or present a statement in which they noted that Ali Matalon is a criminal, I could sue for defamation (running my name through the mud). The Cyber Crime Act cuts that possibility out of the Twitter war equation. If @badgal876 writes “@alimats876 is a [insert expletive, unkind, defamatory message here]”, same @badgal876 can be arrested and not only fined but be criminally charged for saying something on.. Yup, you guessed it, the freaking internet! How dat spell s-e-n-s-e?

#DontDrawMiTongue soon get a resurgence. Anywho….

This means that Nugent could be criminally charged with the possibility of facing, upon conviction, significant fines or actual jail time for saying something without any institutional or public sponsorship. If Nugent had called out those names in a room filled with the same number of followers she has on Facebook, would we ever have heard about it again? Sure, “when it’s online, it’s online forever” but when you say something you can’t really unsay it either. If we’re policing individuals online for what they say, is that going to spill over into day-to-day life? What precedent does it set? Again, it’s different; but is it different enough to not ask these questions?

If we believe that Nugent should not have accused individuals who have not been convicted of a crime in a public forum, then equally, the judicial system and its law enforcement counterparts should take into consideration the message that would be sent to Jamaicans by arresting a well-known and successful human rights, women and LGBTQIA advocate, for the audacious act of saying “I believe you” to survivours of sexual assault and being willing to say so publicly. Something that has not exactly been culturally engendered… This means that policymakers of the 21st century should be more thoughtful in piecing together a bill surrounding cybercrime with special regard for how social media and other new forms of communication contribute to the means by which we exercise our freedom of expression.

Two wrongs equal two wrongs but both wrongs need to be investigated appropriately with regard for humanity first.

As a feminist it is my duty to seek equality of treatment and access to equality for all members of society (despite the often confused definition that patriarchal societies tend to propagate). To say Nugent should not have done what she did is not to disconnect myself from her mission but to highlight how challenging the work can become and what advocates are often driven to do.

In a society in which the Church often presides over public opinion and the bible over law, how can we expect women to feel comfortable saying the name of pastors who have sexually assaulted them? How can we not assume that a priest’s word will trump that of a girl’s? How will we know when is the right time to say the names of rapists and victims of VAWG without threat of being further victimised? We can only imagine, having likely been called a heathen one too many times in her life, that Nugent had a better understanding of how difficult the answers to these questions can be.

A next ting… If 9 times out of 10 that a man said a woman raped him, it was in fact true, we would believe him 10 times out of 10 because we are not programmed to question the word of man. Why is Nugent’s willingness to say ‘I believe you’ to female victims of rape 10 times out of 10 so shocking, and why are we as women so willing to allow the “what if she cries wolf?” argument to inhibit our own willingness to stand with the victims of rape (which anyone of us could be….) when the statistics prove otherwise??

The sexism which birthed the idea that “women can call men rapists even when they were not raped” is the same sexism that has allowed for laws to exist in our nation in which ONLY women can accuse men of rape when instances of the reverse (though rare) do happen.

I’m noticing a trend here, are you? Ya catch feelings? Me too…

Jamaica, we must demand that even though the occurrence is significantly more rare, that a man be allowed to seek justice when raped by a woman, or perhaps more commonly, by another man. We must demand that safer spaces are created in which, no matter how close one’s rapist or abuser may be (environmentally, emotionally or by relation), victims can speak freely and with trust that the judicial system will protect their interests as much as those of the accused. And lastly, we must call for a revision of laws surrounding cybercrime as the generation who knows most intimately a life interconnected with technology having been born with it in our hands.

Unfortunately, as with many social movements before it, Tambourine Army is now left open to being discredited by the people who opposed it in the first place. To compound the issue, women are scared to support Nugent and thereby discredit their own hard work, as well as, scared oppose it and exhibit disunity among feminists. It sound tricky, don’t? It is and that’s good. It means we’re at the beginning of what will hopefully be a revival in national discourse around issues as substantive as this one.

P.S… Who is to say that justice is won exclusively through conventional means? Maybe we do need a bit of a revolution anyway… #JustThinkingOutLoud.