Almost lost amid the controversy, the debate and the mudslinging of a sexual-abuse sentencing hearing has been the person most central to the case — the victim.
A 13-year-old girl who more than likely will be scarred for life by the events of last year and by how this all kicked off around her in the media and on social media — solely the acts of adults — as the courts deliberated how long her abuser got to serve in prison at Her Majesty’s pleasure.
The primary failing when everything that has been said and written gets taken into consideration is the duty of care for the victimised, and for her family and loved ones.
That failure is one which should weigh heavily and serve as a learning moment for how we proceed with such sensitive subjects in a community that has endured more than its fair share of anguish over sexual abuse and related offences against those most vulnerable.
We have often heard the term “two wrongs don’t make a right” — for the Crown v Chez Rogers, there were numerous wrongs, not all of them committed by the 20-year-old man who was imprisoned yesterday for 18 months and put on the sex offenders’ register.
And none of them have contributed, to this point, to making right the sordid culture of child sexual abuse in this country.
Aged 19 at the time of his crime, Rogers was guilty of twice having sex with a minor — which is statutory rape. Any argument that this was consensual sex is false and dangerous because his victim was a child who cannot make such decisions about her body.
To hypothetically throw this story forward a few years — because, had a dutiful parent not interceded, this Rogers-Miss X union could have played out in exactly the same way — we have a revealing story as told in these pages by a brave young woman who believed she was in love at age 15, but instead became the victim of sustained abuse.
We have protected her anonymity, calling her Miss Y, because that is the right thing to do, because the trauma is still real and because this country remains in the deep throes of victim-shaming.
Compounding Rogers’s guilt were the missteps of some of the other adults in the room — the defence lawyer and the media, who also have a duty of care where it pertains to the 13-year-old victim.
Charles Richardson is capable enough as a lawyer that he could have achieved the same result from Supreme Court judge Charles-Etta Simmons yesterday had he not uttered the following in mitigation for his client:
“It has become sport for young girls to see if they can have sex with an older guy”
And these nuggets:
“Young women actively pursue older men and they lie to them”
“Maybe there should be some statute against the young women who do this.”
“They know better, they do. At what point will they be held accountable?”
While Mr Richardson may feel pleased with himself that he appeared to fulfil his obligations in getting his client a more lenient sentence — the Crown asked for three to four years — in reality it was the early guilty plea and Rogers’s “previous good character” that guided the judge to knock six months off the customary two years in prison this case might have otherwise warranted.
For his troubles, on the back of four days’ condemnation from swaths of the online community — admittedly countered by hordes of those in support to remind how skewwhiff this country’s moral compass is on this and any number of hot-button topics — Mr Richardson got a ticking-off from Mrs Justice Simmons for his choice of words in mitigation:
“I must point out here that Mr Richardson strays far from the law when he refers to a 13-year-old victim as a woman. She was a child. She was and is a child.”
“It is not the view of this court that the whole of society, or that even any great portion of society, sees the behaviour of young girls in the ways suggested by Mr Richardson.”
Indeed Mr Richardson spoke out of turn and his belief that young girls actively seek out older men for sex for sport deserved to be challenged. But we in the media had our own role to play in making a bad situation worse.
Unintended consequences or not, Saturday backfired. We must do better, and we have done better.
It was not so long ago that we ran the disturbing revelations of Christine DaCosta and others, which led recently to a change in law that prevents adults in positions of trust from grooming and having sexual contact with those under 18, followed by the groundbreaking Who Cares? series of stories that spoke to the questionable treatment by successive governments of at-risk youth.
So with that in our recent past, it was disappointing to not strike the right chord when first given the chance on Saturday — worse so that our choice of headline created an optical cocktail that was tough to swallow, placed as it was in such proximity to the banner message to find Chavelle Dillon-Burgess, whose disappearance most accept is consistent with the argument against toxic masculinity in Bermuda.
So, many in the community spat it back at us, and deservedly so.
Having failed to make clear in the headline that it was a defence lawyer who put forth the view that young women are seducing older men for sport, we had the chance to express our outrage by way of an opinion that same day, along with other reaction, but stalled and defaulted the moral high ground.
Charles Richardson has lined up his shots against us, too, although his claims of being hard done by lose any weight when set alongside him subliminally characterising a 13-year-old child as a young woman.
But does that make him odious or lacking in morals, as some of his worst critics have claimed? The father of a preteen daughter himself, he believes he was doing the best job he could for his client, but if this offensive view was the best mitigation he could offer, he would have been better off staying silent.
“This court wishes to make it perfectly clear that if he [Richardson] feels so strongly that public morality has changed so strongly to the degree that he suggests, then he is making his argument in the wrong place.”
Those words from Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons make clear that Mr Richardson’s summation might be worth a similarly tone-deaf audience but that his TomTom had landed him in the wrong chamber — although in reality there is no appropriate place for his repugnant comments about child victims of sex abuse.
The relationship between this particular lawyer and this newspaper has not always been the greatest, but there have been green shoots of goodwill in recent times — so much so that we can but turn the other cheek after Mr Richardson rather cheekily shared via screenshot on social media a late-night, private conversation with the Editor on this court matter, ostensibly to further curry favour in a dispute that had been given more spice by the involvement of the Commissioner of Police.
Just as well the Editor was alert enough at 12.30am not to drop himself, his staff or the company in it while attempting to sustain the community engagement that is so necessary in this 24/7, around-the-clock reality.
If Mr Richardson made it to court in one piece yesterday, we can presume it was because there was a safety net to soften his fall, having lost the acuity to negotiate the high-wire act known as ethics.
Football managers whose teams have just had a shocker are known to get in post-match press conferences and waffle on about “taking the positives” from an 8-0 hiding.
The art of obfuscation.
But that is what this feels like to some extent, and we would be seriously derelict in our duties if we did not try to seek positives from a horrible experience — to make it a learning moment.
Education is the key — in the home and in our schools. It is our greatest weapon to fight against the sexualisation of our young people and to help kill off a culture that has yielded decades of abuse.
With respect to the Black Lives Matter movement, which itself cannot have happened soon enough, if you think this is about black girls only, leave the room.
This is about black girls and white girls. Just ask Miss Y. And it is about black boys and white boys, too, because educating and protecting one without educating and protecting the other is a fool’s errand.
And haven’t we been shown to be fools long enough while our children suffer? So they all matter. All our children.
The brave souls who have chosen to speak out have given birth to any number of agencies who provide yeoman service, but they should not be made feel as though they are fighting with one hand tied behind their backs.
A slap in the face. One step forward, two steps back.
That is what this case had to feel like for Saving Children and Revealing Secrets, the Inter-Agency Committee for Children and Families, the Women’s Resource Centre, the Coalition for the Protection of Children, Family Centre, Teen Services, Big Brothers Big Sisters ...
The list of those who are desperate to help our young people is not endless but it is many. We must give them every encouragement to believe they can fight against this scourge on a level playing field.
Ours is a duty of care. Do no harm is a code we must strive to live by, while aiming to hold to account, to inform, to educate and, yes, to entertain.
For the part we have played, we can only apologise — to the young victim and her family, to those who have been victimised and may have been traumatised all over again, and to those who have yet to find their voice and now may dare not use it for fear of the victim-blaming and victim-shaming culture that has this flawed paradise plumbing the moral depths of mankind.
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