Young author-illustrator-artist Kerron Clarke spent her childhood trying to cope with the experience of sexual abuse.
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Kerron is one of thousands who deal with harrowing sexual abuse. More than 1 in 5 Jamaican girls report forced sex. In many cases, the perpetrators aren’t strangers lurking in the dark – they are trusted family members.
Approaching the end of her time at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, she made a bold move and decided to channel her experience in an illustrated novel and animation. Pick-Ni Cherry, told in a child’s voice, speaks directly to parents – urging them to react when their children complain of abuse.
Pick-Ni Cherry stood out at the final year show at Edna, where Kerron showed her work within the setting of a child’s play room. Children, in particular, sat fascinated as they watched the animation and turned the pages of her book. Kerron, who would like to find a publisher to make her book available to a wider audience, shared her insights:
This started with a personal incident with me when I was 7 years old. Sexual abuse is not easy to deal with, it is shameful especially when there is no support. My mom had no support, in the end the abuse went unreported until eventually it was accepted.
In my mind it didn’t affect me because I wasn’t brutally raped. I can only imagine what life is like for someone who had gone through worse.
There were people who said ‘it’s just sex so you’re fine.’ I remember speaking about it only to find that it was the norm – it’s a norm for children to be molested and it is accepted when older men ‘look’ [go after] under aged children.
I got a call that a family member was raped in March on the morning of my 21st birthday, so that pushed the entire project even more.
Since the rapist was a stranger it was easier to talk about. The case was reported to the police and the school associated and it’s now being dealt with.
It’s helped (the book). I’m now able to speak about my past without feeling guilty and tell my story to others of how I dealt with the experience. I try to motivate young children in my community that no matter the type of abuse (sexual, physical or emotional) – this happened to you, but it is not the end.
I went to CISOCA (Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse) and I was talking to a lady there. I was talking to a lady there and she told me the reason children or adults do not report the abuse, is because of fear for the system: going to court; telling strangers about the incident; and the fear of not being believed affects the child and even the family. At seven I did not think I had a voice, how would I stand up in court and say: ‘This man did something to me,’ it would be my voice against his. It would have been rough.
A lot of persons were saying that I was going to put on a very sad final year show – you hear the word rape and automatically your mind drifts to worse case scenario. My challenge with the project was the medium. I did not have the courage to ask a child to partake in a video or photoshoot of this manner well, not with the shock value I was going for so I decided to use illustrations. The first time I showed the book to my lectures and classmates everyone was like “wow”.
Everyone can relate. whenever I spoke about my project the typical response was ‘This happened to me’ or ‘This happened to my sister’ or ‘It happened to my neighbour’ – you are not alone is not an understatement, everyone has a story that can relate to the topic, and it’s very sad.
It has got people talking (the book). I remember at school (Edna) a girl said to me‘Your Uncle Johnny was your uncle, mine was my cousin’ and I was like [shocked face]. And then a next girl said ‘mine was my neighbour’, and that started this huge discussion, a healing process. My work did that!
First we need to find out what influences the abuse and then implement a harsh punishment, so that when the perpetrator thinks of that punishment they get discouraged.
To break the silence we need to talk about rape/sexual abuse. I remember a year or two ago, there was a conflict at my home and the police got involved. My step-mom said to the police: ‘Oh, Kerron was abused when she was young.’ The police looked at her and said…
‘You know she’s damaged!’ and I was like ‘Excuse me!’ He said to me, ‘Y’know persons like you who’ve been abused are automatically damaged.’
Every time I tried to say something to him he ignored me, my voice was no longer important to him. If I was treated like that as an adult can you imagine a child? How does a child say to an adult ‘This happened to me!’ How would they do that, how would they get their voices heard?
I want Jamaica to embrace this book. It’s not just about the story, it’s an awareness lets break the silence and seek help, there are organisations that can help but you have to seek it.
This book is also aimed at parents. The illustrations are very friendly and the language is that of a child. However, to the parent or even the general public reading the book they should be paranoid in a sense and wonder if an ‘Uncle Johnny’ is lurking around their child/children. They need to consider that ‘The perpetrator can be someone I know.’ This will then urge the parent to question the child about their day to day activities and interaction thus enforcing a bond between parent and child.
What would I say to my ‘Uncle Johnny’? I would say that he’s a killer in a sense, because he took my innocence. However I have moved on.
I don’t want my siblings to go through what I went through so of course I have to create a pathway, My aim is to send them to college. This book is just the beginning of my long and anticipated journey.
I am ready for what is to come.
Editor’s note: ‘Pick-ni’ is a variation of the Jamaican term ‘pickney’ for child.