Children’s Advocate warns sexual grooming can be initiated from ‘any part of the world’
With technology at the fingertips of Jamaican children, and the threat of adults who engage in sexual grooming through social media sites and apps, Children’s Advocate Diahann Gordon-Harrison is putting individuals overseas on notice that they can be prosecuted in the island for coercing members of its underage population.
Gordon-Harrison issued her warning last Tuesday during the launch of the Office of the Children’s Advocate’s new publication, titled How to Prevent Sexual Grooming: A Children’s Handbook, at the AC Hotel in St Andrew.
“Sexual grooming is deemed to occur if that adult actually meets the child or communicates with the child on two or more occasions, and actually then connects with that child or travels with the intention to meet that child in any parts of the world,” she said.
“Not in Jamaica, not in the community, but in any part of the world.”
She added, “Of significance is that, at the time of the meeting or at the time that groomer travels to meet the child, if at that time the adult intends to do anything to the child or in respect of the child, whether during the meeting or after the meeting in any part of the world, if that act, if it materialises [or] is done in Jamaica, [it] would amount to a commission of a sexual offence here. Then it is deemed to be sexual grooming,” she said.
Gordon-Harrison also stressed that the local legislation provides not just for actual contact, but also an intention for that contact “in any part of the world”.
“Important to note, as well, is that the method of communication includes all the various means,” she said. “So, when suggestive comments are made in person to a child; when notes are written, whether on a little bit of paper or via WhatsApp; whether online contact is made via Instagram or in a chat room of a game, any form of communication is sufficient for the offence to be committed.
“And it also says, according to the law, that this communication can happen from anywhere in the world. So, someone can be in Canada for instance, and can make suggestive comments via social media or via online platforms to a child, and then travels to Jamaica with the intention to meet that child; that qualifies as sexual grooming, according to our legislation.”
The children’s advocate also raised concern about the age of consent versus the age when a child becomes an adult.
“Also significant, however, is that for the purpose of this Section 9 provision of the Sexual Offences Act, a child is deemed to be a person under 16 years. I’m going to pause here, because it brings to the fore what has been a very vexed debate for a very long time, which is the age of consent is 16 [years]. We are saying you can only be groomed if you are under 16 [years of age], but yet a child is defined as one under 18 [years],” Gordon-Harrison said.
“I need to highlight that, so that if we are having a conversation about sexual grooming, we understand the context within which we are having that conversation legally,” she said.
Jamaica’s Sexual Offences Act has defined sexual grooming of a child as a criminal offence. Section 9 of the legislation holds the relevant provision and includes important elements Gordon-Harrison pointed to during her presentation.
Sexual grooming is an offence that is committed by an adult against a child, whether the adult is male or female or whether the child is male or female.
The handbook further breaks sexual grooming down into simpler terms for children, especially girls, to understand through a character called ‘Pinky’. The 29-page booklet also identifies for children the types of individuals who might attempt to sexually groom them, social media emojis that are sexually suggestive and who children can reach out to for help when they suspect someone is sexually grooming them.
Since the start of the year, and when compared to the same period in 2022, Jamaica has recorded a 20.4 per cent reduction in cases of rape that were reported to the police.
For the first three quarters of the year, between January 1 and August 26, there were 261 cases of rape reported and 328 cases of rape reported for the same period in 2022.
Up to August 26, the St Ann police division accounted for the highest number of cases of rape reported, with 25. This was followed by St Catherine South with 24 and St Andrew South with 20.