Column: Establishing A Sex Offender’s Registry

November 19, 2015

[Opinion column written by Sheelagh Cooper]

The Coalition has been a strong advocate of the establishment of a sex offender’s registry for many years. While we can appreciate the need to protect the identity of victims, we also recognize the concern regarding to avoid further marginalizing offenders.

Further, we acknowledge the varying levels of seriousness associated with offenses that fall into this category. We do, however believe there are ways of addressing all of these concerns and still protect the public by ensuring that the identities of serious sexual offenders are a matter of public record.

Bermuda currently requires released sex offenders to register their whereabouts to police, but that requirement is not always communicated to offenders upon release and is not generally made a condition of parole. The likelihood is that there is a high level of non-compliance to this requirement. This means that even if the registry did exist it would probably not be accurate. Furthermore, that list is not available to the public.

We are recommending an approach similar to Megan’s Law enacted in California in 2004 allows the general public to view information on the name and whereabouts of offenders by visiting the police station or calling a toll free number.

Sheelagh Cooper TC Nov 19 2015

There are a number of points to consider:

1] The need to protect victims.

At the present time there is a ban on the publication of the names of convicted sexual offenders if it would lead to the identification of the victim. We have recommended that the victim or victims’ parent [in the case of a child] be consulted and if their permission is granted the names could be published. Our expectance is that most victims would prefer to have the offender’s name out in the public domain. Once these names are published in the media any individual or organization such as the Coalition can themselves maintain a publicly available register. At the moment a significant portion of those convicted are protected because of the connection to the victim.

There is another way around the problem of the identification of the victim resulting from the naming of the offender as follows: If, when the details of the offense are carried in the media, the media outlets refrain from any mention of the relationship between the victim and the offender this would eliminate the problem. Our discussions with media personnel indicate that they would very likely agree to this provision if they were able to name the offender.

2] Are we stigmatizing the offender?

The second concern raised has to do with the possibility that making the names [and potentially addresses] of sex offenders publicly available would further marginalize them and may even contribute them to their likelihood of re-offending. Indeed there is no evidence that this is occurring in California where Megan’s Law is in effect where this information can be obtained by going to the police station. No one is suggesting that these names and addresses are posted in public areas [as is the case in some U.S states].

The argument that having the public aware of the names of convicted sex offenders is damaging to the offenders reputation and his likelihood of finding employment must be balanced against the safety of the children in our community.

We at the Coalition are strong proponents of the principles of restorative justice. It has been argued in some sectors that publicly naming such an offender breached the fundamental beliefs inherent in the concept of restorative practice.

This shows a lack of understanding of the tenants of restorative justice which begins with the acknowledgement of responsibility for the offence by the offender. An offender that maintains his or her innocence and refuses to participate in a treatment program has missed the first and most essential step in the restorative process. Acknowledgement that one has a sickness and apologizing to all of those affected is not in fact at odds with public recognition especially if this is coupled with support as in our recent training for the Circles of Support and Accountability program [CSOSA].

The CSOSA program embodies the recognition that the best protection that a community can have from a sexual predator is two-fold: the healing of that person and close monitoring to ensure that the offender is complying with the conditions of probation or parole. This program has been very successful in the United States and in Canada and recent research indicates that offenders involved in the Circle of Support & Accountability have an 85% lower risk of reoffending.

The support component assists the offender in reintegrating into the community but is coupled with the accountability component which monitors the offender daily and ensures that he follows the strict conditions of his parole and avoids the triggers that may lead them to reoffend.

3] What about minor offenses?

An additional concern relates to the potential stigmatization of someone convicted of indecent exposure while skinny dipping on the beach at night for example. There are a host of similar offences that are technically sexual offences and need not be included in such a list. For that reason the register should only refer to serious sexual offences. At the end of the day our primary objective must be the protection of the public from what continues to be a serious threat to our children.

Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Offences against Children

According to the report on the “Assessment of the Situation of Children in Bermuda”, more than 60% of the cases never even went to court and in most of those cases it was because the child in question was either unable or unwilling to give evidence. The typical scenario in cases like this is that while the child may tell his or her mother or primary caregiver what happened, he or she refuses to describe this to the police when interviewed by them. This results in a case referred to as “unsubstantiated” and never moves forward. One can imagine why a child would have a problem talking about such a delicate issue in front of a complete stranger or strangers with whom they have no relationship.

In Canada this situation has been remedied through the Ontario Court of Appeal in what is referred to as the Khan Decision. This decision allows for an exception to the hearsay rule allowing someone who the child has trusted to testify on their behalf.

We have seen countless cases throughout the 23 years that we have been supporting child victims. More than half of the cases have never proceeded to court for this very reason. It is within the purview of our Bermudian courts to consider this decision and allow testimony from a caregiver in cases like this, but the decision has never been referenced.

Further, although the law provides for the use of videotaped evidence by children, this facility is never used in Bermuda courts which results in children being required to give evidence in the same room as the accused. Subsequently, they are subjected to sometimes very stressful and often unfair badgering by the defense.

4] What about treatment?

Also, fundamental to the reduction of risk to the community is provision of an effective sex offender program in the correctional institution. Such a program should be mandatory for all the sexual offenders and failure to involve oneself in the program should be considered a violation of prison rules serious enough to remove eligibility for automatic release after two thirds of the sentence.

At the moment, although those who refuse the program will not be granted parole, they can however walk out the door after two thirds of their sentence completely free of parole supervision removing the restrictions and also removing the ability of the prison to recall the offender for parole violations.

We have made the recommendation that this policy be changed in our 40 Point Plan for a Safer Bermuda. This is a rather moot point, however, since there is no sex offender treatment program available and at this moment at Westgate. There is no chance that an offender will have rehabilitated without extensive ongoing treatment begins in prison and continues upon release.

We are aware of one sexual predator who has seriously harmed 3 children, who was given a 12 year sentence, has refused treatment [when it was available], and is about to be released after two thirds of his sentence no parole restrictions. He remains a dangerous pedophile and has neither remorse nor appreciation of the harm he has caused and he is highly likely to reoffend. Not having public access to his name and his whereabouts puts the children of this community at serious risk. That same individual is currently out on day release working at a church that has a daycare on site.

The suggestion has been made that public access to the names and whereabouts of sexual offenders does nothing to protect the public or reduce the incidence of sexual offenses. The most recent data regarding the reports of sexual abuse against children in the United States where this information is readily available to the general public the rate of reports if child sex abuse is significantly lower.

Recent data in Bermuda indicates that in 2010 there were 110 reports of child sexual abuse. Try to imagine a small town of 65,000 people in the United States that received 110 reports of child sexual abuse. One can only imagine the shock and horror that such a situation would evoke. More so when you bear in mind that only a very small portion of these crimes ever get reported.

This has to be viewed as a national crisis. The majority of the population of Bermuda is supportive of these recommendations. It is beyond me why we continue to sacrifice the safety and security of our children. It is better to offend an adult than to sacrifice a child.

Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Offences against Children

According to the report on the assessment of the situation of children in Bermuda, more than 60% of the cases never even went to court and in most of those cases it was because the child in question was either unable or unwilling to give evidence. The typical scenario in cases like this is that while the child may tell his or her mother or primary caregiver what happened, he or she refuses to describe this to the police when interviewed by them. This results in a case referred to as “unsubstantiated” and never moves forward. One can imagine why a child would have a problem talking about such a delicate issue in front of a complete stranger or strangers with whom they have no relationship.

In Canada this situation has been remedied through the Ontario Court of Appeal in what is referred to as the Khan Decision. This decision allows for an exception to the hearsay rule allowing someone who the child has trusted to testify on their behalf.

We have seen countless cases throughout the 23 years that we have been supporting child victims. More than half of the cases have never proceeded to court for this very reason. It is within the purview of our Bermudian courts to consider this decision and allow testimony from a caregiver in cases like this, but the decision has never been referenced.

Further, although the law provides for the use of videotaped evidence by children, this facility is never used in Bermuda courts which results in children being required to give evidence in the same room as the accused. Subsequently, they are subjected to sometimes very stressful and often unfair badgering by the defense.

- Sheelagh Cooper is chair of the Coalition for the Protection of Children

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Comments (30)

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  1. hmmm says:

    All makes sense.

  2. Unbelievable says:

    This is a slippery slope. About 15 years ago, the UK’s Sun newspaper printed pictures of about 20 men convicted of child sex offences on their front page. That week, one guy was walking down the road in his community and a gang of men jumped him and severely beat him up and he landed in hospital. Turns out they got the wrong guy. The injured man was not connected to any of that. This is a true story – look it up.

    Bermuda cannot deal with such a thing as a sex offenders registry. We are too small of a community and everything we do has a ripple effect. If someone is already convicted of a sex offences, their name is forever tarnished as it is.

    We need to be careful with how we throw around ideas.

    • Sara says:

      Forget all the excuses go forth with the list Bermuda! Child sexual abuse is too common in our “small” community. This will indeed deter some of the offenders if they know they will be published. Please do this now!!!

      • Unbelievable says:

        It won’t work as a deterrent. It’s like the death penalty….it doesn’t stop people from killing. You have to take into consideration the other people surrounding this issue. The families of the convicted especially and the families of the victims. Once this gets out, everyone goes into hiding. Everyone feels shame.

        This is Bermuda. We love to punish people.

        • Toodle-oo says:

          * It’s like the death penalty….it doesn’t stop people from killing. *

          It might not stop them from killing the 1st time , but if caught in time it sure stops them doing it over and over again !

    • Ash says:

      This is exactly why a sex offenders list is one of the worst possible ideas for pro justice. I am pro justice and this is not pro justice, a sex offenders list is anti justice. It’s inhumane and sick and something only a person who is terrible would even consider. Think about the consequences of this not just “the children”. Someone being killed over this is NOT and I repeat NOT just offensive, it’s a million times worse than what they were put on the sex offenders list for in the first place. And yes murder is FAR worse than rape.

      • Rhonnie aka Blue Familiar says:

        I guess that I’m inhumane and sick and a terrible person, by your definition, and I’m good with that. Really good.

        I don’t believe murder is far worse than rape, and I believe there should be a particularly special place in hell for the perpetrators of child abuse, a somewhat lower one for those who commit child sexual abuse.

    • LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL says:

      But, this is Bermuda not the UK.

      Its because we are so small of a community that most of us already know who the offender is anyway. SO naming and shaming them will not have much of an impact in the terms you speak. My opinion is that when these offenders (if named) get a job somewhere (say dealing with children at a shoe store like a previous offender of children here who works at shoe shop …. where he helps children try on shoes) it is with hopes that we can think twice before exposing our children to such offenders so careless thus possibly prompting such an offender to re-offend at the expense of your own child.

    • Bloopbleepbloop says:

      As someone who shares a name with a person who is around the same age and who conducts themselves poorly enough to make the news several times with their outlandish behaviour, yes this is a risk, but I think the benefits outweigh the risk.

  3. Sid says:

    Why a registry for one type of crime but not other serious crimes? Why isn’t there a murderer’s register? Or a thief’s register or a fraudster’s register or arsonist’s register? I don’t want to live beside a murderer or arsonist any more than I do a sex offender.

    Criminal records already exist; anyone who actually fights crime already has access to information on offenders. The existence of sex offender registries does nothing except play on voters’ fears and nothing to fight crime.

    • Triangle Drifter says:

      So true. An online site giving the who, what they did & where they are living should be available for all violent criminals, rapists, child molestors & drug dealers.

      • Ash says:

        Drug dealers aren’t necessarily violent criminals and you forgot the worst crime of them all: murder.

    • Faulk says:

      A very good comment Mr. Sid; indeed a record regarding employers who exploit vulnerable guest workers would be a good beginning.

    • LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL says:

      I so wanna know where this information on criminals is and if it is accessible to Joe Public as you seem to imply. If it is common knowledge, please forgive my ignorance.

    • Real Talk (original) says:

      Perpetrators of these types of offenses are already reported in the media.

      Sexual predators are the only ones that our community systematically protects.

  4. Rhonnie aka BlueFamiliar says:

    I’m of mixed feelings about this.

    The community needs to be protected from the serious offenders, and I honestly believe it’s not possible to rehabilitate the most serious ones.

    But, it’s wrong to compare us with the US and Canada models, simply because of our size.

    Does it really matter where any of these people live when every inch of the island is readily accessible?

    Should parents/guardians have the right to allow a victim’s name to go public? I don’t believe so. Peer response could be severely detrimental to the child and his/her relationship with the parent/guardian and family in general, possibly setting them up to further victimisation.

    I do like the idea of naming the offender, but not the relationship to the victim because it does bring a certain amount of protection to the victim, but at the same time… this is Bermuda, it doesn’t take long to find things out. Whether you care to know or not.

    It’s a complicated issue, and I don’t envy those who will be the decision-makers.

    • clearasmud says:

      You make a valid point that the comparison to the US and Canada is not good. These places are large and people can live in the same state and never come into contact but Bermuda is more like a small town where everyone knows each other!

  5. Real Talk (original) says:

    It’s high time for our community to stop protecting offenders. We continue to make excuses for why a sex offenders registry cannot work in Bermuda, ranging from claims that the island is “too small” to claims that victims will automatically be identified if we name offenders.

    The reality is that Bermuda is “too small” for the level of child sexual abuse that takes place on this 21 square miles. Offenders rely on the anonymity currently afforded by the media and courts to go on about their daily lives while their victims are left to try and make sense of the violation that they have been subjected to.

    Removing this anonymity would go some ways towards serving both as a deterrent to offenders and a tool for members of the community to ensure that the individuals exposed to their children do not have prior offences for those types of crimes.

    I seriously question the motives of those individuals who appear to be going to great lengths to come up with reasons as to why this shouldn’t be permitted in Bermuda.

    It can certainly be implemented without exposing victims to the public.

  6. clearasmud says:

    I would support a Child sexual abuse register rather than a sexual offenders register.

    • Bloopbleepbloop says:

      I don’t know…I mean, I’d like to know if my neighbour has molested children but also if they’ve violently raped adults

  7. Terry says:

    So my name is on the Sex Offenders list.

    Only family know whom I am and the offender.

    I have not committed an offence for many years.

    I am clean.

    I have not found anywhere where People would now and are looking out for me.
    How would they know.

    A list?

    Terry is walking down front Street……………………

  8. Nystrom says:

    Now seriously, there are sex crimes and there are very bad sex crimes; just as there are murders and very bad murders. For example: drunk boy meets very drunk girl and they end up having what to his mind is consensual sex but to her mind in the clear light of sobriety is not – she goes to the cops. Clearly this is not as premeditated and evil a crime (dare I mention,it only recently became considered a crime) as say bent, twisted cop molests vulnerable children for years and years… It is doubtful the former will re-offend and will likely go on to have a productive life, lesson learned; the latter, well of course we need TO register (not necessarily a register)… I am not sure that this is something to be left up to publicity seekers and politically correct busybodies.

  9. Cmbbda says:

    Victims tend to be close family / friends of the offender which could lead to indirect identification of the victim which must be avoided at all costs to avoid further trauma / stigma of abuse!
    Children’s safety first but child victims safety and wellbeing is even more important.

  10. Curious says:

    I appreciate the way this argument for a registry is laid out. It is not an easy step in our Bermuda community to create transparency around our behaviour. It is particularly difficult when it is putting our young people at risk or as it relates to violence against women.

    I would be interested in knowing the position of SCARS. They are in this space consistently with their community workshops and it would be helpful to see a shared perspective including Child and Family Services and The Family Centre?

  11. peter n says:

    Bermuda needs to come out of the dark ages..this register is long overdue!id like to have access to it online as suppose to having to visit a police station for it…we all should know who these perverts are..id want to know if my neighbor is a convicted child molester or rapist so i could be more vigilant to protect my family…and them being shamed by a register is of zero concern to me..hope the guilt and shame leads you to hang yourselves…stop raping our woman and children!!

  12. .am says:

    How are we defining ‘child’? A minor? 15? What of 15 year olds with 16 year old boyfriends? Still statutory rape?

  13. Keepin' it Real!...4Real! says:

    In my opinion…If you are interested sexually in children THEN you are SERIOUSLY ILL. A full and thorough mental assessment should be 1st. Priority the results then should determine the punishment…
    If they are found to be mentally dysfunctional in any form they would need HELP not public humiliation…BUT!…If they are found to be of sound mind and are just a VILE person…do they really need to live..?

  14. Widget says:

    I say name them and stick there picture on every milk jug that sails out the door. I see the problem in that these monsters are not recognized by potential victims prior to any assaults. Give families and children an opportunity to know first hand who these people are. Oh and to be perfectly clear monsters are both male and female.

    • Faulk says:

      Why not get them 8 inch yellow stars to wear on their clothing in plain view at all times? That way, even say 40 or 50 years later, we will never forget.

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