Ray-Rivers: separate register for child abusers
A campaigner called for two separate sex offender registers yesterday, so one could list only those who target children.
Debi Ray-Rivers said the root cause of the crime was different depending on the victim’s age.
She welcomed proposed legislation to ensure anyone jailed for a sexual offence is included on a government register and subject to strict controls on release.
As the founder and executive director of Saving Children and Revealing Secrets, a child sex abuse prevention charity, her knowledge was crucial to the bipartisan Joint Select Committee report published earlier this year.
Ms Ray-Rivers believed the debate could be widened to ensure it includes a specific focus on children.
She said: “Now that we are thinking about this, we might need to really consider separating the two lists, separating the child sex offenders.
“There should be two different lists. I can’t speak about adult sex offenders because that’s not where I’m skilled, I can only speak on protecting children.
“From what I understand from the professionals, we’re dealing with two different types of people, two different types of mindsets.
“When we’re talking about child sex offences, we’re talking about a whole different matter, it’s an illness and it’s called paedophilia.”
Ms Ray-Rivers added that cases involving adult victims who experts found to “have the mind of a child” should also be treated as if they were children.
Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General and legal affairs minister, tabled the Criminal Code (Sex Offender Management) Amendment Act 2018 in the Senate this month.
If approved, it will mean a register that includes anyone jailed for a sexual offence either in Bermuda or overseas when the offender is or becomes a resident in Bermuda.
The register would show names, photographs and home addresses of the criminals, but will not be open to the public.
Anyone included on the list would report to a risk management team made up of police, court services staff and Department of Corrections representatives.
The special panel would assess the likelihood of reoffending and oversee the supervision of offenders in the community.
The Bill also proposed that sex offenders could not apply for release from jail on licence or at their earliest release date unless “mandated programmes” were completed.
Ms Ray-Rivers hopes more details about how the register would work in practice will be revealed.
She said: “I would like to see the Bill saying that if a convicted child sex offender doesn’t do the treatment, he or she cannot be released, and once treatment has been completed, the individual is reassessed by a trained professional in paedophilia.”
Ms Ray-Rivers questioned the make-up of the risk management team and whether any of its members would be experts on child sex offences.
She said: “We do not need a public list if we have a team of professionals who can determine whether someone is a risk to children in our community.
“We need to know who these people are because they need to be held accountable when making decisions like that.
“In our view, any risk is going to be harmful to children. Child sex offenders should not even be let out if there is any chance that they will offend a child again.
“If this team can say that individual is no longer going to be a risk, then we don’t need a public sex offenders list.”
Ms Ray-Rivers added: “There is no margin for error when a child sex offender gets released from jail.
“They must resist the urge at all costs because the consequences are too great. A child’s life will be affected for ever and it will trickle down to their relationships, their family, their self-worth, health issues and more.
“Innocence is gone and it cannot be replaced.”
Ms Simmons told the Senate in August that existing sex offenders’ notification requirements meant information was compiled by the Bermuda Police Service for law enforcement purposes.
MPs unanimously backed the JSC report that supported a tiered sexual offenders register with a mandated framework to notify the public of the release of high-risk offenders.
Ms Ray-Rivers, who was a victim of sex abuse when she was aged eight, said the “first and foremost” goal of the authorities should be to protect children and the second priority was rehabilitation.
She added: “Child sex offenders deserve a second chance, but victims are never afforded the same luxury of getting their innocence back.
“We can heal but we have emotional scars.”
Scars runs awareness sessions to educate adults about risk reduction and what to do if a child raises concerns.
Ms Ray-Rivers said: “We have to limit the damage done and the only way we can do this is to do everything we can to protect children in this community.”
She added: “We all play a part in that, that’s why we want organisations to get certified in prevention, to put in mandatory codes of conduct, policies and procedures that will reduce the risk in their organisations.
“We want every parent to become certified in prevention so they can talk to their children, so children can be taught how to self-advocate and they can use their voice to speak up when this happens and know that adults are going to stand up for them.”
A government spokeswoman said sex offenders that needed supervision would be monitored by probation officers “according to the level of risk” and “the need for the community’s protection”.
She said the risk management team would include other professionals “as deemed appropriate”.
The team will conduct regular assessments of the offender and recommend psychological evaluations where required.
She added the new legislation “ensures the community is better protected from the harm posed by individuals who prey on children, by mandating sex offenders get the treatment and programmes that they need and managing them through the offender risk management team”.
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