Paedophiles should be sent overseas after serving sentence, child safety charity suggests
The head of a child safety charity is calling for persistent paedophiles to be given lifelong jail terms or be sent abroad after prison, after the early release of an offender who went on to attack three more young girls.
Kelly Hunt, the executive director of the Coalition for the Protection of Children, spoke out after Shuja Amon Muhammad was convicted of touching two schoolgirls for a sexual purpose between August 1 and September 30, 2021 — just weeks after he was found guilty of intruding on the privacy of another girl.
All the offences happened after Muhammad was released early — without warning to the public — from a ten-year prison sentence for molesting a seven-year-old girl.
Before that jail term, he was convicted of sexually touching a ten-year-old girl and intruding on her privacy by trying to kiss her on the mouth after she turned 11.
Ms Hunt said that the coalition was very familiar with the defendant’s crimes and his multiple victims, describing how his repeated offences left a “trail of destruction”.
She said: “Personally, I think he should have a lifelong sentence. He has proven to be a danger to society and should not be walking our streets. Period.”
Ms Hunt, in an opinion piece in today’s edition of The Royal Gazette, outlines a series of measures that the coalition is calling for in its 30th year of existence to better safeguard the island’s youngsters from sex predators.
She wrote: “Whether it is from the third sector, parent community or concerned citizens, the public outcry for an improvement in sex-offender management is clear.
“The sad truth is that rehabilitation, psychological evaluations and therapy are neither mandated nor guaranteed prior to a release date.
“With that in mind, we must implement a multipronged approach for convicted paedophiles so that further victimisation is prevented.
“Bermuda cannot turn a blind eye to the harsh reality that there are predators among us. Continuing to allow certain individuals the freedom to find an opportunity to reoffend is at the expense of our children.”
The changes urged by the charity include an automatic warning to the general public every time a paedophile is released from prison and sending the worst offenders abroad to larger jurisdictions after jail, where they can live far from schools and be closely monitored.
Other proposals are:
• a reassessment of sentencing guidelines to better reflect the seriousness of sex crimes against children
• improved tracking and supervising of offenders returning to society, including the widespread use of electronic monitoring devices
• clearly established exclusion zones to prevent convicted paedophiles from living, working or loitering near schools or other places where children gather
• a ban on convicted paedophiles living in a household with children
• the refusal of bail for anyone accused of a sex offence involving a child
Ms Hunt said that sending offenders abroad should be a “last resort” and would have to be paid for by the island’s taxpayers, but could solve the problem of creating no-go zones around schools in a tiny country like Bermuda.
She said: “In instances where a person is a proven, repeat sex offender, and the risk to public safety is clear, alternative arrangements need to be established.
“This could be in the form of a prisoner exchange programme where particularly dangerous individuals are sent to jurisdictions with the capacity to ensure exclusion zones and restrictions. Bermuda is too small to effectively restrict the movement of a motivated predator.”
The Opposition senator Robin Tucker yesterday called on the Attorney-General to explain why she did not warn the public about the early release from prison of a prolific child sex offender.
Ms Tucker questioned whether Kathy Lynn Simmons, who is also the Minister of Legal Affairs, followed the proper protocol before Shuja Amon Muhammad left Westgate in October 2020.
The 48-year-old, who had been jailed in 2014 for ten years for molesting a seven-year-old girl, attacked three other children after his early prison release and is now awaiting sentence for those offences.
Ms Tucker said: “As a mother and a grandmother of young children, I am outraged by the fact that a repeat sex offender was released from custody without any apparent notification made to the public that would have allowed parents and guardians to safeguard their children.
“Where is the accountability to these children whose lives have been irreparably, and avoidably, damaged?
“Where is the accountability to their families? I am so very sorry that this has happened to these children. Sadly, no words of comfort will change it.”
The Progressive Labour Party promised before it was elected in 2017 to name sex offenders for “certain offences”.
The pledge came after public outrage when the sex offender John “Chalkie” White was released in November 2016 without the families of his victims being notified.
Ms Simmons became the first minister to issue a public notification about a dangerous sex offender in early 2018 and she has issued further warnings since.
The Royal Gazette understands that in the case of Muhammad, previous victims were notified of his release but there was no general warning to the community.
A Ministry of National Security spokesman told the Gazette in May that Muhammad was in prison from 2014 and was released in 2020, adding: “Prior to his release, the Department of Corrections followed the sex offender notification protocol as required by the Criminal Code (Sex Offender Management) Amendment Act 2018 passed by the Progressive Labour Party Government in 2018.”
A spokesman for the Attorney-General’s Chambers said then: “The Attorney-General’s decisions are guided by different factors in each individual case, including psychological assessments provided by the Department of Corrections.”
Ms Tucker said: “Bermuda’s Criminal Code requires the Minister of Legal Affairs to implement a protocol for public notification. Was this protocol followed? How was it applied in this situation?
“It is useless having a system in place that this Government says is for the protection of our children but then they cherry pick how to apply it, if it is even applied at all.”
The senator said the “lack of wide public disclosure about the release of this individual is totally unacceptable”.
She added: “I call on the Minister of Legal Affairs to explain to every parent and guardian why she didn’t notify the public of this sex offender’s release.
“The public deserves to hear from the minister directly and swiftly. It is a disgrace that she remains silent in the wake of such a clear display of poor judgment.
“This Government has failed these children and all others who have been left unprotected by a system that clearly doesn’t do what we have been told it will do.
“Someone must be held accountable for this tragedy and appropriate actions taken with greater urgency by this Government to prevent any more of our children from becoming future victims.”
The Gazette asked the Attorney-General for comment but none was received by press time.
Muhammad, who is remanded in custody, is due to be sentenced on Friday for the offence of intruding on a young girl’s privacy.
His sentencing for touching the two girls for a sexual purpose is set for May 15.
His recent convictions prompted questions this week from Coalition for the Protection of Children founder Sheelagh Cooper about why the Attorney-General did not inform the public about his release and whether he received any treatment in prison.
Concerns were also raised in January by Debi Ray-Rivers, the founder and executive director of Saving Children and Revealing Secrets, who questioned the level of treatment Muhammad received in jail and asked how many qualified experts were involved in the decision to release him.
Ms Hunt said paedophilia was “not necessarily treatable” but that specialised treatment programmes were “worth a try”.
She said that Muhammad’s case highlighted what some offenders were driven to do and that “incarceration hasn’t prevented them from doing it”.
“Ultimately, we are failing our children here,” she added.
“It’s like we are giving them [paedophiles] the opportunity. They are out there seeking, searching for the next opportunity and we have to make sure that’s as limited as possible.”