Now to Miss Sobers and more sensible commentary:
Yvonne McCalla Sobers, Guest Columnist
Youth Minister Lisa Hanna is to be commended on her ministry's plan to serve vulnerable, destitute, and homeless youth. She recently announced plans specifically targeting youth rejected by their families and communities because they are seen as gay, lesbian, or transgender.
It would, therefore, be in the minister's interest to be seen as credible and sensitive when speaks about sex and sexuality.
However, her recent explanation for the closure of the Alpha Boys' Home shows that the minister may not be well advised on how to address sexual abuse without putting victims of sexual abuse in harm's way.
Questions could be asked about Minister Hanna's motive in disclosing that youth at Alpha Boys' Home were sexual predators. What did she expect the public to do with this information? How did she expect the Sisters of Mercy to respond to the disclosure? What did she expect her ministry to do with this information? Considering that the home has been an incubator for outstanding Jamaican musicians, what suggestions did she put forward for keeping the home open despite its problems?
The minister could perhaps be considered a whistle-blower in this situation. However, whistle-blowers are usually insiders who reveal misconduct, hoping that they will shame authorities into correcting the wrongdoing. So, the minister was conceivably blowing the whistle on herself, as she is the person with authority to protect boys in state homes from sexual predators.
The shock value of Minister Hanna's disclosure was predictable. Sexual misconduct, especially between male minors, is bound to create outrage in a culture where persons have been attacked and killed because of their sexual orientation. It was also foreseeable that suspicion of being sexual predators or targets of sexual predators would fall on past and present residents of Alpha Boys' Home.
The minister claims truth as a defence for revealing sexual misconduct in the home. However, court cases involving minors are held behind closed doors because some 'truths' can cause a child lifetime harm. It is time enough to go public when reports have been investigated, allegations have been tested, and adult perpetrators have been convicted.
The Sisters of Mercy say the minister's whistle-blowing has so far had negative effect. They say the public has responded by labelling the boys as homosexuals, stoning a branded Alpha Boys' Home bus, and confronting teachers on the streets. In addition, a highly questionable newspaper cartoon depicted the rape of a minor in the home.
The impact of 'outing' these youth goes well beyond generating media headlines and social media chat. The minister will hopefully reflect on how to protect youth labelled as deviants as they leave the home to enter a society that is hostile towards them.
She needs to understand that her statement is likely to close options for youth who may have no shelter options when the home closes. They will risk being further schooled in antisocial survival strategies by others who have similarly been rejected by families, communities, and society as a whole. The social cost of the minister's 'outing' of alleged youth predators is worth calculating.
Minister Hanna's statement may, however, have had one positive effect: opening up a taboo topic to public discussion. Attorney-at-law Jacqueline Samuels-Brown has exposed systemic violation of boys in Alpha Boys' Home. The attorney wisely focused on cause (employees and other adults abusing power) rather than effect (youth acting out sexual abuse inflicted by adults). This adult sexual abuse was described as long-term and perhaps extensive.
If Mrs Samuels-Brown's sources are correct, Minister Hanna has a busy time ahead carrying out her ministry's mandate. The minister might, therefore, be wise to confine her media statements to steps taken or about to be taken to solve problems related to abuse of children in care.
A problem-solving approach could produce positive results. Minister Hanna could consider developing protocols for detecting and reporting grooming and suspected sexual abuse of children in care; taking steps to minimise sexual abuse of these children; and providing counselling and mental health care for children who have been sexually abused or show signs of becoming sexual predators.
Most of all, the public should hear from the minister the steps she is taking to investigate the allegation of systematic abuse by those entrusted with the care and protection of boys at Alpha Boys' Home. Adult sexual predators need to be identified and prosecuted.
Solutions might then point to possibilities of keeping open this 135-year-old shelter for troubled youth. The minister might also use her influence to persuade parents, as a whole, to keep under-18 boys at home, no matter their supposed or actual sexual orientation. Most of all, the minister could speed up provision of services to prevent newly homeless youth from joining the ranks of veteran homeless youth in parks, gullies, and abandoned buildings.
It is not enough for Minister Hanna to claim to have spoken the truth about Alpha Boys' Home. She has the authority to address the implications of the sexual abuse that allegedly contributed to the closure of the home.
She, therefore, urgently needs to begin the process of controlling damage not to her image, but to the lives of youth who are due to vacate the home shortly. Most important, Minister Hanna's words and actions need to point towards helping troubled youth to achieve their potential in a safe space.
Yvonne McCalla Sobers is a human rights campaigner and convenor of Families Against State Terrorism. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.