:: by Richie Maitland ::
Recently, leaked naked sexual images of some young teenage girls exploded across virtual networks in Grenada. The spread was driven by people’s inability to control their dark curiosity (aka ‘fasness’), even if satisfying that curiosity meant consuming and sharing child pornography, potentially harming the children involved and compromising their futures.
Together with the images came the expected commentary and Facebook statuses, much of which made the girls out to be the villains and blamed them for the leaks (as opposed to the the people who violated their privacy). When a back story surfaced about one of them attempting suicide after the leaks were revealed, a facebook commenter jokingly (and stupidly) suggested that she should have taken pics of the suicide attempt and posted them as well.
The comments revealed a cultural disrespect for data privacy and deep-rooted hypocritical values around sexuality and in particularly teenage sexuality. They also revealed some assumptions that we have internalised without thinking too hard about them: that teenagers are not supposed to be sexual beings and they are bad if they are, and, that wise people don’t keep or share sexual images of themselves. The debacle in general revealed very obvious holes in children and teens education, holes concerning comprehensive sexuality education, holes that many children and teens fall through to hurt themselves.
People are among other things, sexual beings – teenagers too. It is a fact parents and government can choose to ignore by not addressing it meaningfully, but it’s a fact nonetheless. Facts of course don’t bend to our deliberate ignorance. Recent statistics from the WHO and the OECS Behavioral Surveillance Surveys (BSS) show that in Grenada about a quarter of young persons between 13-15 are having sex, many of them with multiple partners, many of them without protection. Also, 1 in every 8 live births in Grenada is to a young woman, aged 15-19. If we are honest with ourselves and are able to recall our teenage selves we might smile and shake our heads at some of the mischief we got into. Reflecting on other instances, we may wish that someone gave us honest, clear information so that we could have made a better informed decision.
In more recent times technology generally and the Internet specifically has significantly changed how information is shared and consumed. Internet usage has penetrated around 45 % of Grenada’s population, a significant portion being young persons. Guess what? People use the technology available to them, including to share intimate things. That is as true for adults as it is for young people; it is as true for professionals as it is for lay people; as true for wise people as it is for fools.
Whose fault is it if my mechanic steals and shares sensitive information that I had stored in my glove compartment? The blame rests squarely on the mechanic. We can argue about whether I could have been more cautious about leaving sensitive information in my car but let’s be clear on whom the fault lies. Why do we think differently of the situation with the girls? We pelt stones at the victims while the real wrongdoers skin teeth on the side. I would be very happy to see charges and convictions under the Electronic Crimes Act coming out of this. Maybe then people would begin appreciating the value of respecting people’s privacy.
I get the sense that for a lot of people sharing the images with commentary is about shaming the girls. A shaming that is meant to punish girls particularly for crossing lines that we have told ourselves girls must not cross. Boys have a little more leeway, but young girls find themselves squeezed at doubly oppressive intersection of being young and being girls. The boxes of decency and self respect are smaller, but girls must make themselves fit. When girls breach those boxes we must shame them. It’s the same kind of shaming that drove a Trini mother to half kill her daughter with blows, for posting a picture in facebook with her panties showing, in a video that went viral.
We can’t beat or pray sexuality out of teenagers. Sex and sexuality are a normal part of personhood, including teenage personhood. We can’t always keep sexual content away from them either. We live in a world occupied and saturated with sex. It’s the same world that young people live in. We would know if we could access the schoolyard conversations, backyard games and bathroom graffiti.
Church sermons on chastity and half dead HFLE (Health & Family Life Education) curricula talking about boys having testicles and girls having ovaries aren’t doing anything for us or our young people. Young people must be empowered, an empowerment flowing from an understanding that sex and sexuality is natural. Government and parents must provide them with the tools to understand themselves and their sexuality better; to better manage their relationships and create dynamics with which they are comfortable; to lessen the potential risks involved in behaving sexually.
I say it’s time for comprehensive (and I repeat with emphasis – COMPREHENSIVE) sexuality education to be introduced into our public school system. There is already overwhelming public support for this. An April 2014 Grenada poll done by UNAIDS RST and supported by the Norwegian Government showed public support for sexuality education at 63-71% in primary school and 89-94% for secondary schools.
In revealing themselves the girls revealed much more than themselves. They revealed an educational policy gap that we must address. Let’s do the right thing.
Co-Founder Groundation Grenada
Richie Maitland is a Grenadian attorney and activist. He is a graduate of the Presentation Brothers College and T.A. Marryshow Community College. He earned his Bachelor of Laws Degree at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill, Barbados in 2010. Richie is a member of the Hugh Wooding Law School class of 2012 and is currently working as an attorney-at-law in Grenada.