The kidnap and murder of 20-year-old Khanice Jackson last week and the disappearance of 21-year-old The University of the West Indies (UWI) student Jasmine Deen more than a year ago have heightened fear among blind and visually impaired women who cannot avoid using public transportation.
“From the Jasmine Deen case, the concerns have been high. I know that there are visually impaired and blind persons who are more reluctant to take taxis, for example. So persons would prefer to probably wait on the JUTC [Jamaica Urban Transit Company] buses, but, of course, you know that sometimes those aren’t very reliable, and there are some persons who are more reluctant to come out,” Jamaica Society for the Blind (JSB) Executive Director Conrad Harris told the Jamaica Observer.
Jackson, a St Andrew High School for Girls alumna and accounting clerk who lived at Manchester Avenue, Independence City in Portmore, St Catherine, went missing on March 24. Her body was found on March 26 near Portmore Fishing Village in a state of partial decomposition.
On that day, 50-year-old mechanic Robert “Backra” Fowler was taken into custody in relation to the murder. According to the police, Fowler confessed to the killing Tuesday morning and was charged in the afternoon. He is scheduled to appear in court next Friday.
Deen, who is visually impaired, never made it home on February 27, 2020, after waiting more than an hour for a bus outside the back gate of The UWI Jamaica campus. She was last seen in Papine square, where a taxi had reportedly dropped her off.
“Things like this kinda heighten the reluctance of family members to allow their female relatives who participate in our programme to come out. I have heard persons say that the whole situation with Jasmine Deen has affected them,” said Harris.
Kamika Braithwaite, a visually impaired mother of two, told the Observer that she is paralysed by fear when she considers taking public transportation.
“I am very wary. If I consider taking public transportation, I change my mind. It’s better I wait on my husband or a taxi [driver] who knows me. I am definitely worried about stepping into a man’s vehicle. Sometimes when I have to take a car they are pointing me to other cars, and I’m not seeing. And I get a little more concerned when they realise I don’t see well, because I feel like they’re going to take more advantage of me,” she said.
Deen’s disappearance, Braithwaite added, hit home. However, she noted that there have always been concerns within the blind community.
“Even before Jasmine Deen, blind and visually impaired persons, especially females, we are very sceptical of taking taxis. Unlike sighted persons, who are able to take note of drivers and look to see who is in a vehicle before going into it and being able to recognise a regular driver, we are not able to do that. So we usually prefer to take the JUTC buses. With Jasmine Deen, that concern was heightened. I’ve actually spoken to blind persons, even at UWI, who get a little scared and say it’s either they call a cab who knows them or they take the bus,” Braithwaite said.
A similar fear was expressed by 29-year-old Deneisha James, who said she has to take taxis to go about her business.
James told the Observer that she listens to how taxi drivers talk before making the decision to travel with them.
“I have to use their tone of voice. For example, how they sound and if they are trying to rush to get me in their car. If I am standing at my bus stop and they drive up close to me, I try to focus on how their face look. I try to do that and I don’t see clearly, but at least I have a picture,” James said.
“I have been fearful from the Jasmine incident. Based on that, when I am going out, especially in the night, I just try to be careful and take taxi drivers that I know. I make sure the taxi is not illegal and I try to be observant,” she explained.
Latoya Thomas, 44, is visually impaired and also uses a wheelchair. That, she said, doubles her troubles.
“I am fearful. I don’t have one challenge, I have two. I feel like if I come across anybody who wants to abduct a woman they will try me because I’m more vulnerable. I can’t see well at nights, so I have to avoid being on the road at nights. Either I use a personal driver or I go on the road with a family member. If no one is available, I limit my time on the road,” she told the Observer.
Last Tuesday, in Parliament, Olivia “Babsy” Grange, the minister with responsibility for women and gender affairs, said that her ministry, through one of its divisions — the Bureau of Gender Affairs — will continue dialogue with the Ministry of National Security and other relevant parties to curb “baseless acts of violence” against women and girls.
“If we all cannot protect our women and girls, our most vulnerable, from such horrible acts of violence, how do we even see ourselves as a civilised society? At what point do we say enough is enough? I want to use this opportunity to call on every organisation in our country to get involved in activities to stem the bloodletting against our women and our girls in our communities,” Grange said.
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