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Charity launches campaign to protect girls

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A charity appealed to the public yesterday to join a campaign to safeguard children from sex predators in the wake of controversial comments by a defence lawyer.

The Coalition for the Protection of Children launched its social-media drive after barrister Charles Richardson told the Supreme Court that “it has become sport for young girls to see if they can have sex with an older guy” as he pleaded in mitigation for a man who admitted he had sex with a 13-year-old schoolgirl.

But Kelly Hunt, the executive director of the coalition, said any suggestion that a 13-year-old girl could be a sexual predator was “incomprehensible insolence”.

Ms Hunt said: “We should not have to reiterate that a 13-year-old constitutes a child. This should not even be a question.

“Ultimately, we need to stand together and agree on what we should value in this country.

“If we are not willing to fight for the next generation, we will certainly reap what we sow with further harm to society.”

She was speaking after Mr Richardson last Friday argued for a lower sentence for 20-year-old Chez Rogers, who pleaded guilty to the offence of unlawful carnal knowledge of the child.

Mr Richardson said Rogers accepted responsibility for his actions, but asked the court to consider all the circumstances in the case.

Rogers was expected to be sentenced yesterday, but the date was changed to tomorrow because of computer problems at the Supreme Court.

Ms Hunt said that young victims were encouraged to speak out if they had been molested — but that they were “vilified” when they did.

She added: “This is completely unacceptable. It takes an incredible amount of bravery to come forward and seek justice.

“We must be supportive and gently guide our youth through this process.”

But Ms Hunt said: “However, we often see more incidences of shaming, in particular when it comes to female victims.

“We need to reject the abhorrent nature of hyper sexualising our young girls as a community.”

She added that the charity had asked for a government exemption to hold an outdoor event with more than 50 people present to promote the need to protect children, but it had not been approved by yesterday.

Ms Hunt asked the public to share a special graphic on social media instead with the hashtags #protectourgirls, #13isachild and #sheisme to show solidarity.

She added more details on the campaign would be revealed later this week.

Ms Hunt said: “How we treat statutory rape, victim shaming, and the oversexualising of young girls in Bermuda should be seen as a clarion call to action.

“How and why we continue to defend this behaviour while blaming young victims indicates a deeper fracture that must be addressed.

“These are our children, and it is our job, as adults, to keep them safe. Not only should minors be protected from predators, but they should certainly be protected from the criminalisation of being a victim.”

Debi Ray-Rivers, the head of child protection charity Saving Children and Revealing Secrets, said the suggestion that teenagers could be responsible for their sexual abuse was “dangerously flawed and must be challenged and eradicated”.

She added: “It is incumbent upon an adult — 18 years constitutes being an adult — to resist a teenage child's overtures.

“While we appreciate a lawyer's duty to defend their client and mitigate sentence, we also appreciate that lawyers can advocate on behalf of their clients without blaming the child victim in any way.

“To do so undermines the seriousness of the crime and re-victimises the child victim. It also is glaringly contrary to the well-established principle that a child does not have competency to give consent to sex.”

Ms Rivers said that more education was needed to help stamp out sexual offences against children.

She added: “We must instil self-esteem and self-worth into our children so that our young daughters and sons understand that their bodies are sacred and private.

“We must teach our teens about the potential risks, consequences and dangers of engaging in sexual behaviours in their young teenage years. We also encourage parents to educate their adolescent teens about the legal ramifications of engaging in sexual contact with younger teenagers.”

“Parents play an important role in educating their children about the risks of having sexual contact with someone under the age of consent.

“This is an area which needs more awareness and certainly more conversation.”

Elaine Butterfield, the executive director of the Women's Resource Centre, added that the charity was “shocked” by Mr Richardson's defence statement.

She said that a 13-year-old was “by law considered a minor and therefore unable to make adult decisions”.

Ms Butterfield added: “The reason for the law is based on that very fact.”

She said that the mitigation plea undermined the efforts of people who campaigned for the rights of children and that she hoped the episode would be a learning experience.

It is The Royal Gazette's policy not to allow comments on stories regarding court cases. 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.

Social-media drive: Kelly Hunt, executive director of the Coalition for the Protection of Children (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published July 14, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated July 14, 2020 at 9:14 am)

Charity launches campaign to protect girls

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