Committee backs call for law to protect teens

  • Significant support: the Most Reverend Wes Spiewak, Catholic Bishop of Hamilton

    Significant support: the Most Reverend Wes Spiewak, Catholic Bishop of Hamilton


A call to change the law to protect 16 and 17-year-olds from predators has won backing from a group advocating on behalf of children.

The Inter-Agency Committee for Children and Families said Bermuda’s law on sexual exploitation should apply to anyone up to the age of 18 “to better protect all youth” from grooming.

It supports the call made last week by Christine DaCosta, 38, who was groomed by her teacher for sex when she was 17 and a student at Mount St Agnes Academy.

Ms DaCosta said in The Royal Gazette last Friday that adults who worked with children could groom girls before they reached the age of consent, but avoid prosecution by not having sex with them until they reached the age of 16.

An IAC spokeswoman said yesterday: “Given a child is being redefined in the Criminal Code as any person under the age of 18, the laws around sexual exploitation should similarly be defined to apply for anyone under the age of 18.

“IAC does not believe that a 17-year-old can provide consent when in a relationship with an adult who is a person of trust or authority.

The spokeswoman explained: “A person of trust or authority means there is an unequal relationship between the adult and the young person, making the young person susceptible to the influence of the adult.

The spokeswoman added: “This vulnerability is pronounced if grooming has occurred.”

The section of the Criminal Code which deals with sexual exploitation by a person in a position of trust or authority defines a “young person” as someone under 16.

Child sexual abuse prevention charity Saving Children and Revealing Secrets had already said the Criminal Code should be amended to protect anyone still at school from sexual exploitation.

The IAC is a group of social and human services providers that monitors the critical issues faced by children and advocates on their behalf, particularly to safeguard them against physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

It noted that some offenders groom children by building a trusting relationship and emotional connection with them so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them.

The spokeswoman said: “To better protect all youth against these forms of sexual abuse, IAC believes the laws of sexual exploitation should apply to anyone up to the age of 18.

“By addressing this ambiguity, IAC believes we will be enhancing our child safeguarding practices which will ultimately lend further protection to children, who by reason of their age, are deemed vulnerable.”

Robert DiGiacomo, then aged 44, was Ms DaCosta’s history teacher and family friend in 1998 when he persuaded the teenager to have sexual contact with him on several occasions and sex on one occasion.

Ms DaCosta said last week: “I don’t want to see another generation of children vulnerable to this kind of abuse.”

The Most Reverend Wes Spiewak, Catholic Bishop of Hamilton, has also supported the call to bring the age of minority up to 18.

The Ministry of Legal Affairs has argued it was a “misconception” to say the law enabled those in positions of trust or authority to have sex with children aged over 16 without committing a criminal offence.

A spokeswoman said in The Royal Gazette last Friday: “Whilst a person in a position of trust or authority who has sex with a girl aged 16 or 17 could not commit the offence of sexual exploitation, they would be liable to a conviction for the offence of sexual assault.”

Ms DaCosta’s call for a change in the law is specifically in relation to grooming which leads to consensual sex.

The ministry spokeswoman has not responded to a question on whether an offence of sexual assault would apply in cases where sex between a teacher and a student over 16 was consensual. The ministry did not respond to a request for comment on IAC’s statement yesterday.

For more information about the IAC, contact Nicola.iac@prevention.bm

On occasion The Royal Gazette may decide to not allow comments on a story that we deem might inflame sensitivities. As we are legally liable for any libellous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.

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