OFTENTIMES when teenaged girls are listed as 'missing' from certain communities, it is a move by their parents or guardians to protect them from criminal enforcers, or 'dons', who send for them to perform sexual favours, a senior police officer has stated.
Senior Superintendent Derrick Knight, in highlighting the reality that the 'don' culture was still alive and strong, said that the girls, before and after sexual demands are made by 'dons', usually go through a period of trauma.
Knight told the Jamaica Observer in an interview that that he has had first-hand experience with such a matter.
"These gunmen go into the communities and demand the young girls. A lot of the times we hear that the 13- and 14-year-old girls are missing, that is not really so in several cases," he said.
"In a lot of cases the mothers are forced to send them to hide and then report them missing, because the don had come and said 'me want her tomorrow night'.
"We are aware of that. The don man culture is still very strong in these communities," said Knight, who is the administrative head of the St Andrew Central Police Division of the Corporate Area.
Tales of sexual advances made by dons on young girls are many. Some of the girls are younger than 16, the age of consent. Yet, they are targeted and eventually forced to do all forms of sexual acts. Some girls end up bearing children for the community enforcers.
However, with the demise and incarceration of some of the underworld's well-known names in recent years, and the police presence in some communities stronger than usual, there was a feeling that the practice had declined or was eliminated in some areas.
Not so, said SSP Knight.
"When the don gets the girls, the affected girls don't report it. This is because of the fear factor. In most cases, the little girls will not come forward because the mother, brother and grandmother still reside in the community and they will be targeted. That will unsettle the child," he said.
"Once it comes to our attention, there are systems in place for us to relocate the child and her family. We work with the CDA (Child Development Agency) and other agencies to ensure that they are well taken care of.
"The girl is usually traumatised in a situation like that, the Victim Support Unit will assist and counselling will take place, not only for the child, but the mother, and even brothers inside there," he said.
"Sometimes when some young men turn to crime, it is because they saw what was done to their sister or mother," SSP Knight added.
He said that persons were now more aware and informed since the advent of CISOCA (Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse), which has implemented an effective system of public education.
"More persons are going to jail, more persons are being arrested, and we are getting a lot of reports. That is why you may see more cases show up in the statistics, because more persons are feeling more comfortable to go to the police," he said.
"Gone are the days when people come to the station, and the kind of customer-centric relationship was not offered to persons who are suffering, having reported cases of sexual abuse," he said.
"Now, CISOCA, with the multi-agency approach, is improving on this. So persons go back to the community and tell others there, or go back to their schools and tell other persons about the type of treatment they got. Over time we are building and improving on this and this will impact on what is happening out there," Knight added.
Despite the continued presence of the don, Knight said, these enforcers are getting increased resistance from community folk, because in large measure these same dons have turned against their own people.
In past years, community enforcers were treated as folk heroes, as they protected their communities, often robbing from outsiders and sharing their loot with those in their immediate living environs.
Now, Knight argued, there was a shift, and the so-called dons have breached 'normal' procedure.
"These dons are turning against some of the citizens in the communities now, and these citizens are giving them away easier," he said.
"One of the [differences between] today's bad men and those [before] is that the community used to support them, so they did not turn on their own community. You would not find them raping and robbing persons in the community; they would go into other communities.
"These gunmen [nowadays], they turn on their own... but the gunmen of former years would get support from their communities, because they would operate like Robin Hood, they would go out and rob and take things to the wider community," Knight said.
"When you are the bad man in a community, the girls are yours. Like anywhere else, you will have persons who are stronger and persons who are weaker. You will have three or four men in a community, but the stronger man, known as the baddest man, will come forward and become the leader," Knight stated.
"As soon as that person is killed, then there is a struggle for who should take over the leadership.
"So once there is an earth and a heaven, there always will be persons involved in criminality. Policing is one job, like prostitution, that will not go away. But we have to police in the context of the changing environment," he argued.
"The informal leadership is still very strong. They are not relying on the politician anymore, because they have their own guns now. And they can do their extortion. "They extort every taxi man, every business place, every shop, every bus man..."
Knight said that one particular gangster was collecting $500,000 a week in the Papine area. "So he didn't need any politician, he never needed any contract, and he was still getting contracts."
For Knight, a veteran of 34 years in the police force, one of his main concerns now is controlling jungle justice which, according to him, seems to be taking over the island.
"I am really concerned about this," he said. "Resorting to jungle justice might be telling us that persons don't have any confidence in the justice system, and that is why persons like me, as an agent of the State and part of the justice system, must do everything in our power to reassure persons.
"One of the things that we should do is to constantly inform victims of what you are doing in a case, because lack of information will result in persons feeling uncomfortable and start saying 'bwoy, the police naa do nutten, man. Bwoy, the man do this and the man a walk up and down' and so on, so all of us will have to do everything in our power to stop this trend," he said.
"Jamaicans are copycats... once something happens in one community, then it tends to happen in other communities. Persons must also be aware that they, too, can be arrested, charged and be convicted for engaging in this type of activity that is vigilante justice. So we still say, use the appropriate channel, structure and processes to deal with the issues that confront them out there," Knight said.