5 reasons to fix Jamaica’s flawed Sexual Offences Act

An open letter to all Jamaican parliamentarians

Jamaican Parliament
Jamaican Parliament

On Sept. 17, 2014, a joint select committee of the Jamaican Parliament will begin reviewing the country’s 2009 Sexual Offences Act.

Among other things, this law retains sections 76, 77 and 79 of the 1864 British colonially imposed Offences Against the Person Act, which criminalizes private consensual adult male same-gender intimacy (the anti-sodomy law).

The committee has been accepting submissions from the public to aid in its deliberations on reviewing the law.

Below is an open letter sent to all Jamaican parliamentarians calling for essential changes in the law to recognize the rights of gay men and straight women.

5 Reasons to Revise the Sexual Offences Act


  • Decriminalize Private Consensual Adult Same-Gender Intimacy
  • Equalize the Punishment for Rape.

1) The law does not prevent HIV: The Sexual Offences Act of 2009 preserves the ban on private consensual adult male same-gender intimacy found in the 1864 Offences Against the Person Act (the anti-sodomy law). However, despite the continued existence of this colonially imposed law, Jamaica has the highest HIV prevalence rate among men who have sex with men (MSM) in the Western Hemisphere (33%). Hence, the law violates the right to privacy of consenting adults, with no societal benefit.

Peter Figueroa, former director of Jamaica's national HIV/STI program
Peter Figueroa, professor of public health at the University of the West Indies. (Photo courtesy of W.H.O.)

2) The law hurts women: By banning private consensual adult male same-gender intimacy, the law contributes to homophobia. This homophobia drives MSM underground. Professor Peter Figueroa, head of public health at the University of the West Indies, and former head of the National HIV/STI Programme, has identified that about 60% of Jamaican MSM also have sex with women. Many MSM enter these relationships to hide their homosexuality. The result is that HIV can bridge between the two populations.

3) The law cannot easily be enforced: To enforce the anti-sodomy law would most likely require breaching the enhanced right to privacy of the home found in s. 13 (3) (j) (i-ii) of the 2011 Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.

4) Repealing the law will NOT lead to gay marriages: Many countries in the world have decriminalized private consensual adult same-gender intimacy and have still not recognized gay marriages. These include our CARICOM [Caribbean Community] neighbors, Suriname (1869), Haiti (1986) and The Bahamas (1991). Further, s. 18 of our Charter bans the recognition of same-gender relationships. It would require a constitutional amendment to get marriage equality. This is a very complicated matter.

5) The law is unfair to women: The law preserves the 1864 Offences Against the Person Act, which provides for a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for anal rape and life imprisonment for vaginal rape. Hence, if a man raped a woman anally he would get significantly less time than if he raped her vaginally. This is patently unjust.

I would be happy to present additional information to support these points, if I am granted an opportunity to make a submission to the Joint Select Committee of Parliament that is currently reviewing the Sexual Offences Act.

Yours Truly,
Maurice Tomlinson

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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