By Gerry Hopkin, JD
I am compelled to write regarding some unsavory information that was recently carelessly circulated on Facebook in a rather distasteful and unethical manner. The missive of which I write was by a New York based friend of mine. Unfortunatel…y, however, it was published to the possible detriment of disclosing details (such as the victim’s age and address) related to the identity of an under-aged victim of a sexual crime and an entire society’s tourism sector.
Based on my training in journalism and law, I must hasten to add, that while I have the highest degree of respect for freedom of speech as a right, I was also taught that one must be careful to exercise this right sensibly and without infringing on the privacy rights of others, especially minors who are victims of sexual crimes.
Balance Competing Interests
When writing about sensitive issues, one must exhibit a nuanced understanding of the competing interests that are at stake. One must understand that there is a hierarchy of values and concerns that must be considered in determining what to publish from what not to. One must also seriously take time to study the likely impacts of words and actions by subjecting one’s reasoning to solid ‘cost-benefit’, ‘means-versus-ends’ and best practices analyses of the issue, before he screams about it.
I cannot help but wonder whether my learned and talented friend, who I am sure meant well when he decided to write about the plight of the young victim in the manner he chose, paid sufficient attention to the above considerations.
And further, did he ask and answer the important questions below, before his apparent case of logorrhea (diarrhea of the mouth or pen). May I humbly suggest that the following questions constitute a helpful checklist which may be consulted by anyone before he/she writes and publishes a story or opinion piece:
i) What am I trying to accomplish by disclosing particular details to a given audience? ii) Have I thoroughly and appropriately researched the facts and the related issues of the matter? iii) Is the identity (name, address, etc.) of the victim, essential to the story/coverage? And iv), if I choose to accuse anyone of something, am I doing so after having verified that he/she really contributed to the problem?
Is Audience Targeted Based On Purpose?
Additionally, if my purpose is to agitate and to give advice about what ought to be done to change the way things are, am I getting it to those who really need to hear it? Am I writing merely because I am disgusted and just want to scream about a problem to the rest of the world, or am I writing with a message that would have transformational value in the lives of my targeted audience?
At this juncture, may I say that it is unfortunate that anyone would believe that unless others join him/her in screaming about the awful abuses being wrought upon our women and children, that these others (leaders and journalists in Grenada) are doing nothing. Such a view reeks of uninformed, self-righteous arrogance, regardless of how well-intentioned the source of such hubris may be.
Know the Facts
For the record, let it be known that tough and sensible changes have been made to the laws in Grenada, regarding domestic violence and the protection of children, through the work of countless Grenadians, many of whom we may never hear a word from on Facebook.
Grenada, in fact, has been leading the way in the OECS, with respect to legislation in this area.
In recent years we have seen the passage of the Child Protection Act (2010), the Domestic Violence Act (2011) and the Juvenile Justice Act (2012). Additionally, there has been the amendment of the Education Act and Criminal Code, which inter alia, which effectuated stricter prison sentences and mandatory reporting.
However, our problem will not be resolved by simply reforming our laws, which had to be done. The solution is more importantly about changing people’s thinking and behavior.
I believe that everyone must do what he or she can. Change must be brought about at every level − individual, familial, communal, national. Laws must be made tougher and more sensible, something my friend was apparently not aware of when he initially expounded.
Are we Efficaciously Helping & Preventing?
Our problem is on the ground in Grenada; and it would not be solved by casting blame and sharing comments with the rest of the world, on Facebook. Hanging out one’s dirty laundry on social media, without first washing it at home, where the problem exists, is not a solution to our problem. It’s only a misplaced complaint.
To those who are still bantering over this issue on Facebook, I say, countless others and I do share your concern and disgust over the alleged recent, horrible sexual abuse incident (not a pregnancy, as initially incorrectly reported) involving a minor, and we do believe that you mean well in doing what you have been doing.
And to the those who are quick to pass judgment on Grenada’s criminal justice system, which we all know is not perfect (in ways no more than that of developed nations or any other Caribbean state), allow me to suggest you take some time to further research the issue before you make the kind of pronouncements that you have been making, incorrectly and irresponsibly.
Again, in my view, as reasoned above, the real solutions to the problem must happen on the ground in Grenada; not on Facebook. Besides the issues of protecting the identity and privacy rights of the victim (which were violated when unauthourized pictures of a recently assaulted woman were taken of her on her hospital bed and published by several on Facebook), there is also the concern of impacts and ethics.
Are we just about mostly broadcasting gory, sensational details to the rest of the world, or are we really concerned about reaching the people we need to reach with the comments that are being made on Facebook? Is this the most effective way to reach the politicians, other leaders, and most importantly, the perpetrators of the criminal activity that we should be addressing?
May we all ponder these questions before we say or write anything else on Facebook about this matter. My exhortation here is certainly not in any way promoting un-called-for censorship, which I vehemently oppose. Instead, my primary concern is ensuring the prevalence of common sense and adherence to ethical standards when dealing with issues related to the protection and privacy domain of minors and the protection of the image of our State.
It is important to ensure that we are not contributing to societal circumstances that lead to the very abuse that we are trying to prevent, in view of all of the negative economic ramifications that are attendant to the poverty that can result from a tarnished national image. And while I may prefer to err on the side of sacrificing the privacy concerns of one individual if certain disclosures would lead to the prevention of harm(the indignity of similar sexual abuse) to a larger number in the future, I maintain that we must trod sensibly and cautiously when dealing with such matters.
Together We Can Realize Wholistic Reforms
May we continue to increase our efforts to forcefully and effectively address the issue of sexual and other abuses to children and women in Grenada and elsewhere. The solution lies not in finger pointing, but in doing the heavy lifting which must be done on the ground, right where the victims reside, learn and play, and where their predators prowl.
With tougher, sensible laws already in place, we must now all do our part to ensure that we have stepped-up enforcement, balanced judicial prosecution, tougher and smarter rehabilitative penalties, comprehensive re-education, and cultural internalization and adjustments in behaviour, on the ground in Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique.
May we all contribute by impacting the problem with positive change, premised on respect for the dignity of each individual and the value of order, decency and stability in our State, region and global society.