Commissioner: modernise our consent law
Bermuda’s top police officer has said sex between teachers or other people in positions of trust and children in their care should be a crime, even if the young person is over the age of consent.
Commissioner of Police Stephen Corbishley added outlawing all such relationships, including where they involved 16 or 17-year-olds, was “appropriate, because it’s just drawing the exact line”.
He said: “It’s what happens internationally. This is pretty common ground.”
Mr Corbishley was speaking after The Royal Gazette highlighted the case of Christine DaCosta, now 38, who was groomed for sex by her teacher Robert DiGiacomo while she was a 17-year-old schoolgirl at Mount Saint Agnes Academy.
Police told her in 1999 and again more recently that, because she was over 16, the age of consent for sex, no offence had been committed.
Ms DaCosta has now launched a campaign to make it a criminal offence for teachers and other people in positions of trust or authority to have sexual contact with youngsters under the age of 18.
She was backed by child sex abuse prevention charity Saving Children and Revealing Secrets, as well as the Inter-Agency Committee on Children and Bishop Wes Spiewak, the head of the Catholic Church in Bermuda.
Mr Corbishley did not discuss Ms DaCosta’s case, but said: “Sometimes you need ... cases that shine the light on where the gaps are and, whilst there is this regret and upset in terms of what’s happened, it’s an opportunity to say ‘how can we stop something like this happening again?’ or making it more difficult to happen again.”
He explained that in Britain and other countries “if you are a teacher and this is a student, you commit a specified criminal offence”.
Mr Corbishley added, “or if you are a scout leader and it’s a scout. I think that’s appropriate, because it’s just drawing the exact line. For me, and even as a father, I would want my kids to go to an environment where it was absolutely clear.”
He added: “Abuse is ... the use of power against somebody else. And the scary thing is, to some degree, legitimising it to the point where the victims don’t realise they are being abused.
“Which is the reason why you need those things in place that make it absolutely clear that you are not relying on a victim saying that ‘I consented’ or ‘I didn’t consent’ or ‘I wasn’t aware’. It’s just simply: you can’t do that.”
The Criminal Code only makes it an offence for a person in a position of trust or authority to sexually exploit a young person if they are under 16.
And, unlike Britain, schools, camps, sports clubs and other places used by minors are not required to carry out police background checks on prospective employees.
The Ministry of Education said last week it was “within best practice of the Department of Education to ensure that police vetting takes place during the recruitment of any teacher” and that new teachers in the public school system had to do Scars training before they started work. Private schools said they carried out police checks on potential staff members.
Mr Corbishley said the ideal was to move away from a voluntary system to making checks a legal requirement.
He added: “If you take any form of sexual abuse, there is always a power dynamic, whether it be in a school, youth club or wherever. This is where the discovery of historical offences is becoming more significant.”
He added: “I would support anything that increases the way in which we look after children and young people and protect them from abuse.
“And I think it’s always healthy to review and understand what legislation exists in Bermuda and what opportunities and lessons learnt are there from other parts of the world.”
Mr Corbishley said he would support a review of Bermuda’s child protection laws so any gaps could be identified.
He added the police could play a vital role as “significant players in the preventative agenda” as well as the primary investigators in criminal cases.
Mr Corbishley said: “The most important thing is Bermuda giving a commitment that the interests of children are really important and I think there is a significant need for primary legislation to bring together lots and lots of different areas but, equally, to identify the gaps on issues ...”
He said: “Some of that is around grooming. Some of that is around persons in positions of responsibility. Some of it is around how offenders are managed, whether it be in the community or elsewhere. Some of it is in regard to the recovery of evidence in certain environments.
“But we need to get to a point where we have a root and branch review. Not in a critical way, but a root and branch review of where we are, where do we need to be and where are those gaps.
“The BPS are highly supportive of that because, at the end of the day, what it will achieve is in the interests of children.:
He added the police service had worked with the UK’s National Crime Agency to train officers in Bermuda in how to deal with vulnerable victims.
Mr Corbishley added: “Quite often, vulnerable victims are the most important, because occasionally they don’t have a voice at all, because of the situation they are in or maybe they don’t even realise they are victims, particularly if they are suffering abuse.
“We’ve created a new vulnerable persons investigation unit and we’ve also developed our child exploitation online team.”
The commissioner said: “There’s a considerable shift in the capability of the BPS to be able to do this. We are also developing really good and strong partnerships with other agencies and we are sharing information a lot more.
“However, it’s still at the absence of some areas of legislation which are really important and some measures that ... we need to improve around safeguarding.”
• The police’s Vulnerable Persons Unit is at 247-1678
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