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Jamaica woman brings attention to rapes targeting lesbians

Simone Edwards
Simone Edwards AP

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Activists say Jamaican homosexuals targeted because of their sexual orientation prefer not to formally report attacks or threats, fearful of being stigmatized or blamed. Human Rights Watch last year reported it knew of 10 cases of sexual assault in Jamaica targeting eight lesbians, one transgender woman and one gay man, including cases of rape at knife or gunpoint.

“It is clear from victims’ testimonies that anti-LGBT animus is a factor,” said Graeme Reid, LGBT program director for the New York-based group.

Even when attacks are reported, prosecution is difficult in Jamaica’s inefficient, overwhelmed criminal justice system. The main alleged assailant in Jackson’s case, in fact, was acquitted in 2011, though he previously was accused of a number of rapes and sexual assaults.

Police Superintendent Enid Ross-Stewart, head of the island’s sex crimes unit, said investigators have never received a report of someone targeted because of their homosexuality and she believes that “all the people who are raped come forth.”

Sometimes, female victims of sexual violence wait to leave Jamaica before revealing their experiences.

Reggae singer Diana King, who in 2012 became the first Jamaican musical artist to publicly come out as gay, recently tweeted from her Florida home that when she was a 13-year-old on the island, she was “gang raped for looking at a girl too long.” In her 2010 memoir, Brooklyn-based writer Staceyann Chin writes she was ostracized after coming out as a lesbian on a Kingston college campus, and one day was herded into a bathroom by several male students, who sexually assaulted her while telling her that women were created for men to enjoy.

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Some Jamaican lesbians have sought asylum abroad. In 2008, Simone Edwards survived an attack by two gunmen who hissed the anti-gay epithet “sodomite” at her as she lay bleeding on a street from two bullets. She later received asylum in the Netherlands and her story was told in the 2013 documentary “The Abominable Crime.”

“Before the gunshots, guys would always call me sodomite girl, lesbian girl. They would come up to me and say, ‘You just need one good night of sex with a man,'” Edwards said by phone from The Hague.

The Associated Press doesn’t normally reveal the names of sexual assault victims, but the women in this story have come out publicly to discuss their ordeals.

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