Community activism in de-silencing the voices of young people affected by sexual violence in Jamaica

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Lemonius, Michele
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Systems of patriarchy and colonialism impose socio-cultural and structural constructs of gender and sexuality to maintain power and control in Global South countries, creating highly volatile states where women’s and children’s rights need urgent attention. As a result, activists and researchers have called for an immediate response. Among Global South countries, Jamaica reports that increasing sexual violence against young people is an epidemic perpetuated by a culture of silence. Sexual violence is the leading cause of the high rate of sexually transmitted infections among children as young as 10 years old. This study explores grassroots peacebuilding and community activism initiatives in Jamaica that promote awareness of the issue, encourage the importance of reporting incidents, and support survivors in the communities they serve—understood as de-silencing. This research seeks to understand the experiences of community activists and advocates who work to address sexual violence against young people in Jamaica. Grounded in Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS), this research examines the concept of the everyday and its intersection with sexual violence, education, and change. This study uses a narrative approach and semi-structured interviews with 25 participants from various communities and organizations across the island. Data analysis identifies sexual violence as everyday violence, where informal learning and storytelling play a significant role in perpetuating social indifference and denial that silences victims and survivors. Analyses also reveal that individuals’ motivations to become sexual violence activists or advocates depend on three key factors: early influence of role models, learning, and critical awareness. First, the motivations of activists and advocates are linked to the early influence of role models who challenged or were perpetrators of gender or sexual violence. Second, informal and formal adult learning spaces can nurture individual awareness and understanding of sexual violence against young people and ignite social action to prevent it. Third, critical self-awareness is an essential tool in evaluating one’s perspective on sexual violence and understanding the impact of working with victims, survivors, and perpetrators of sexual violence. Findings indicate the need for more mental health supports, education, and resources for local peacebuilders who address sexual violence against young people. Findings also identify the necessity for further examination of the duality of informal learning in motivating social change and contributing to the continuity of sexual violence against youth within Jamaica.
Local peacebuilding, Everyday sexual violence, Everyday peacebuilding, Community activism and advocacy in Jamaica, Informal and formal learning, Storytelling, Sexual violence affecting young people, Post-slave colonial state and sexual violence, Denial, De-silencing