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Sex Offenders’ Bill an insult to survivors

Dear Sir,

Two years ago, for an academic piece, I began investigating the entirely disheartening reality of sexual abuse in Bermuda and the steps the government of the day was taking to mitigate it. Having seen your article dated November 10, 2018, a glimmer of hope emerged within me as I read the title that a Bill to create a sex offenders’ register had been tabled. This glimmer was entirely stomped out as I continued to read said article.

The Joint Select Committee on a Sex Offenders’ Register was created in the November session of the 2014 parliamentary sitting, and as noted in the Hansard Report, various Members of the House voiced their commitment to creating and implementing legislation on a register by the next House session.

Clearly, that did not happen. Upon interviewing two members of the JSC in November 2017, I was led to understand the only policy that had come out of this JSC until that point was one saying that teachers could not be alone with students in a classroom or detention.

As you can imagine, after four years, I was pleasantly surprised that something had come of this committee. Sadly, this was short-lived excitement. Upon seeing that a list of offenders will not be public and not be accessible through Pati requests, I was really quite angered.

Genuinely, what is the point of this Bill? What was the point of having a joint select committee when this was the best “solution” that could be thought of? If there is no way of accessing this register, how can parents be sure that they have as many resources as possible at their disposal to protect their children? How can smaller businesses, without the resources to run background checks on applicants or employees, be sure of who they are employing? How can we rid ourselves of the stigma of speaking out about sexual violence, when the Government itself will not give us the resources to do so?

Of the arguments I have seen, various parties propose that having a publicly accessible register would make it difficult for sex offenders to reintegrate into society. First, I am of the apparently controversial opinion that the rights of children and adults to not be sexually assaulted are more important than those of a convicted sex offender to feel “accepted” or appreciated by society.

Particularly in the case of child sex offenders, parents and guardians of children have the right to know who is interacting with their children at sports clubs, ministries, youth centres and all the other activities they are involved in.

When it comes to a balance of children being unknowingly exposed to convicted predators, I do not think any of us believe that convicted offenders’ past being actively hidden by the Government is more important than safeguarding the most vulnerable in society, to whom we at least owe a basic level of protection and transparency.

Second, if you don’t want to be excluded from society on the basis of committing a sex crime, then don’t commit a sex crime. It really is that simple.

Another argument I have heard is that while registers are acceptable in larger societies such as the United States or Canada, it could not work in Bermuda. I do not understand why Bermuda’s size determines how important sex crimes are — I would have thought that rape, sexual assault, paedophilia and other equally horrifying crimes are just as relevant and impactful in Bermuda as they are in other places. Also, publicly accessible registers in the US apply in every state, city and town, no matter their size — some with populations smaller than Bermuda’s. Finally, regardless of all of this, communities even smaller than Bermuda such as Pitcairn, the Falklands and St Helena have utilised external advice and implemented more effective systems than proposed. In light of this, why is Bermuda so reluctant to change its ways?

I would also like to note that I find the Bermuda Government’s policy on treatment in prison for offenders to be entirely lacklustre. As noted by the JSC in its report on sex offender treatment, noting that heretofore offenders are not categorised for treatment, that treatment programmes emulating those of Britain from the 1980s are outdated and that treatment is not mandatory for any inmates.

Really, Bermuda? This is the best we have to offer to our society? This is the best we have to offer our prisoners? It is an utter disgrace that we have a non-mandatory, ineffective and archaic form of treatment. Change is needed and the procrastination of the Government in implementing these proposed changes is entirely disheartening.

In the context of chronically lacking action on protecting children, I could also motion that the One Bermuda Alliance and Progressive Labour Party governments have shown an entire lack of interest in child safety, as is evident in their lack of payment for child guardians such as Tiffanne Thomas, who is to this point owed more than $800,000 for her work — but this is beside the point.

Essentially, this Bill is not enough. If we want to change the culture of silence about sexual abuse in Bermuda, we need transparency on the part of the Government. If we are truly interested in reintegration of offenders, we should adopt effective, mandatory and modern treatment, and programmes providing training and skills that allow for employment upon release.

This Bill is nothing, and it being branded as a solution to the endemic problem of sexual abuse in Bermuda is not only angering, but it is downright insulting to survivors.