The danger that paedophiles and other sexual deviants pose to children and young people is a rapidly-growing issue in Bermuda and we should find a way to institute a public register of sex offenders, said Suzann Roberts-Holshouser, the OBA candidate for St. George’s South Constituency #4.
Speaking in the Senate on July 18th, Attorney General Kim Wilson said that Bermuda’s laws, which are modeled on UK law, do not allow for the establishment of an American style sex offender register.
Minister Wilson said while there are provisions for notifications in individual cases, “this protocol and the law operate on the presumption that information should not be disclosed because of the risk of preventing a sex offender from living a normal life and the danger of vigilante justice.”
Ms Roberts-Holshouser said: “I am sure I am not alone in my dismay at the Attorney General’s negative and depressing statement to the Senate last week, in which she essentially ruled out any chance of a public register of sex offenders being established in Bermuda,”
“The danger that paedophiles and other sexual deviants pose to children and young people is a rapidly-growing issue in Bermuda. This should not be a surprise to anyone.
“Although official Police statistics say there were under 100 cases of child sex abuse reported to them in 2009, Martha Dismont, director of the Family Centre, feels that Police figures reflect severe under-reporting. She told a committee of the legislature recently that cases of child abuse and neglect are probably 10 times greater than the official figures.
“The Police themselves have said (a spokesman for the Juvenile and Domestic Crime Unit to a teacher-orientation session in 2005) that it is likely that one in every three female children and one in five male children in Bermuda have been sexually abused. Even if one ignores the apparent tendency to under-report sexual abuse, those are absolutely horrifying figures.
Ms Roberts-Holshouser continued: “The lesson for politicians, especially the Government, is that public concern about sex offenders isn’t confined to a politically insignificant number of families; it affects almost every family in Bermuda. A better candidate for political insignificance is the number of people who aren’t affected in some way.
“Senator Kim Wilson takes the concerns of these people lightly at her peril. Her colleagues know that. Many members of the Progressive Labour Party have said, or intimated, that they would be in favour of a public register. Her predecessor as Attorney General, Michael Scott, didn’t go that far, but he publicly admitted that the present law should be strengthened.
“What Senator Wilson said in her statement last week was true, but nowhere near the whole story.
“She said that we follow English law, which goes out of its way to protect the individual’s right to privacy. English law does not allow a public register of sexual offenders, and therefore Bermuda’s law cannot, either.
“That’s correct. But it is also true that law, like everything else, is always in a state of evolution. The law in England was amended in 2008, as a result of public outcry over the rape and murder of a little girl called Sarah Payne, to allow for an expanded use of the UK register of sex offenders. Anyone who fears their child is being exposed to a sex offender in some way is entitled to ask the Police for information about that person. If the police agree the fears are reasonable, they are permitted to turn the offender’s record over.
“Bermuda has a register of child sex offenders. It is part of the Children Act 1998. The difference between Bermuda and Britain is that here, only child care professionals are entitled to obtain an offender’s record. No child care professional has ever done that, apparently, so it could be said that our register is more or less useless. Whether it is even properly kept up is not known.
“Bermuda’s choice is not simply to allow for a public register or not, as Senator Wilson intimated. We also have the ability to amend our law to bring it into line with current best practice in the UK.
“I personally am strongly in favour of a completely public register of sex offenders. I think many, if not most Bermudians, agree with me. I cannot believe that people as inventive and resourceful as Bermudians are incapable of finding a way to accomplish that. My party, the One Bermuda Alliance, will certainly not rest when we become the Government, until we have done just that.
“But in the meantime, I am not so determined to have my own way that I would not approve of Senator Wilson simply amending our law to improve it to the extent she feels it can be improved. Anything would be an improvement over our current useless effort.
“This is a serious issue. If we can believe the unofficial estimates, the damage caused to individuals and families by sexual abuse is incalculable. Let’s get serious about doing something to put a stop to it, Senator Wilson,” concluded Ms Roberts-Holshouser.
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