The professional clown and gender based violence

Stop the violence sign. Courtesy of Gaurav Singh Graphics.

I was disappointed, recently, with the actions and comments made by a professional clown who became infamous for boisterously and arrogantly intimidating passengers in a taxi. He was forcing them to exit the vehicle as he had determined that the passengers ought not to have been travelling during a strike by taxi operators. With a big stick in hand, a face looking menacingly at the passengers and shouting “oono come out a dis,” he gave the passengers the impression that he was on a mission for owners and operators of buses and taxis and he was zealously guarding and acting in the best interest of stakeholders. Passengers obviously felt the need to exit the vehicle, no doubt based on fear for their safety. This they did, albeit reluctantly, in response to the outrageous and abusive behaviour and demands made by the clown.

It was, however, fortuitous that at about the same time that the clown was carrying out the uncivilized behaviour a police patrol spotted what was being done, accosted the young man and proceeded to arrest him. With videos circulating on social media indicating he was crying in the police station, he immediately denied that that was the case and is reported to have said he was simply responding to the irritation in his eyes, consequent upon being tear-gassed by the police.

Readers may find it interesting that the majority of the passengers threatened by Ramone Silvera, 32, of Kellyman Terrace, were women. When asked if he would apologize he said there was no need to do so as he did not physically harm anyone. Responding in this way is to overlook the psychological, mental and emotional harm done to a person or persons who are subjected to verbal abuse. Yet, it has been well established that emotional and psychological abuse include mostly non-physical behaviours that the abuser uses to control, isolate, or frighten girls and boys and women and men. Verbal threats are sometimes used by abusers to undermine the self-esteem and self-worth of others, usually the most vulnerable. This is in a bid to create a psychological, mental, emotional and spiritual dependence on the abuser.

In these 16 days of activism where the alarming rate of one in three women and girls are affected by gender-based violence (GBV), down from one in four a few years ago, we may be seeing the effects and impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic. For this reason, it is helpful to keep in mind some of the tactics used by abusers to frighten, intimidate and oppress victims of abuse. These include: humiliating them in front of others; calling them insulting names, such as “stupid,” “disgusting,” or “worthless”; getting angry in a way that is frightening; threatening to hurt them, people they care about, or their pets; threatening to harm him/herself when upset with you; saying things like, “If I can’t have you, then no one can”.

These strategies, used to perpetuate GBV, are classic signs of the broader challenges of the epidemic of violence confronting us as a society and my focus in this article is just one aspect of a far more complex and difficult malady. Gender based violence is any harmful act/s directed at an individual based on their gender and is rooted in inequality, the abuse of power, harmful norms, pathological religious values, serious violation of human rights and a threat to life, health, liberty and protection. All these were evident in one clown’s act of intimidation and threats in what was a displaced and ill-informed, zealous attempt to show support and solidarity to transport owners and operators.

It was very heartening and heartwarming, however, to see the overwhelming response of condemnation, utter disgust and frankly, a denunciation of the radio presenter who provided air play, publicity and recognition for a behaviour which does not reflect the values of a civilized society. Values are norms, principles or standards of behaviour which people choose to live by based on tried and tested results from individuals, groups, societies and nations that have adopted and lived by them for centuries. It was, therefore, very encouraging to know that all is not lost when it comes to things that people value, and it’s very useful to know that bad, brutish and brawling behaviours are not among the things that are cherished and supported.

All forms of violence are to be renounced, condemned and rejected and, even in the case of state violence, which is often presented as the solution to social problems, or individual cases of mental illness which needs treatment, nonetheless, these are to be rejected as defeatist and destructive and can in no way contribute to the development of a modern society. Rather, the way forward is greater reliance on values, principles and norms which support love of neighbour, the golden rule of do unto others as you would have them do to you, respect for the environment, tolerance of differences and being patient with our development trajectory. If given the chance, I am confident all persons can and will make a positive difference to a Jamaican society where all is not lost, despite the bad behaviour of a few, including the professional clown.

Rt Rev Garth Minott is the Suffragan Bishop of Kingston

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