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‘A huge victory for child protection’

Report review: Debi Ray-Rivers and Jon Brunson of charity Scars welcomed parliamentary report

A parliamentary report on the management of sex offenders has been hailed as a huge victory by sexual abuse prevention charity Saving Children and Revealing Secrets.

Debi Ray-Rivers, the founder and executive director of Scars, and Jon Brunson, the chairman, said the report by the Joint Select Committee also showed the impact of education and awareness surrounding child sex abuse.

Mr Brunson said: “This is a huge victory for Bermuda and for child protection. I felt the work that Scars is doing in the community was affirmed by the statements in this report.

“The legislators have really unveiled the crime, the reality of sexual abuse and the impact it has on the community by their words in this document.”

The report, tabled by Progressive Labour Party backbencher Renée Ming in the House of Assembly on July 27, made recommendations for increased education, mandatory treatment and management of sex offenders, and the counselling and support of victims and their families.

Ms Ray-Rivers said she cried with joy when she read the report and added: “I felt like we were heard.”

She said the acknowledgement that child sex abuse has the “potential to destroy families” showed that “we are understanding our community, that everyone suffers when a child or adult is sexually abused”.

She added: “In the words of the great Nelson Mandela, ‘there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children’.”

Ms Ray-Rivers and Mr Brunson said many of the recommendations in the report were in line with what the charity had called for.

Ms Ray-Rivers added that it was important to draw a distinction between sex offenders and child sex offenders, for which there is no treatment in Bermuda.

She said: “We are dealing with two separate and completely different treatments. There is a specific treatment for paedophiles and those that have sexual thoughts of children.”

Mr Brunson added: “Our hope is that as part of the sex offenders’ management system, they have specific provision for child sex offenders.”

He emphasised that rehabilitation of offenders was key and Ms Ray-Rivers added: “Every child sex offender who is convicted and serves time in prison with no appropriate and effective treatment and is then released without proper assessment remains a danger to the community and a danger to themselves.”

She suggested Bermuda follow the UK’s lead to implement “best practice treatment” for paedophiles.

Mr Brunson said they looked forward to hearing more about how the recommendations would be executed when the report is debated in the House of Assembly on Friday.

Kelly Hunt, executive director for the Coalition for the Protection of Children, said the charity was also encouraged by the focus of the report that “identifies the horrific effects of child sexual abuse as a human rights issue that must be dealt with urgently”.

Ms Hunt added: “Policies protecting our children from the severe trauma of sexual abuse should be a priority for Government.

“Specific, mandatory treatment, categorisation as well as restrictions for convicted sex offenders are critical to preventing the opportunity for further child victimisation.

“We concur that the management of sex offenders will play a major role in effectively combating the devastation in our community that results from this issue.”

Ms Hunt said the Coalition agreed with clearer guidelines, restrictions and ongoing supervision when offenders are released from prison.

She added: “All victims should be notified of a release, and as outlined by the JSC, access to any children by the offender should be unequivocally prohibited.

“Effective, continued management that includes all these elements will spare children and families further harm.”

Ms Hunt said the coalition also looked forward to seeing an island-wide school policy for reporting abuse, identified in the report as inconsistent or non-existent, “as a matter of urgency throughout all educational and sports facilities”.

She added that a sex offender registry, which includes offenders who commit this crime overseas, was an “important preventive measure”.

“The CPC supports this registry, in addition to the other 14 recommendations outlined in the report and we look forward to seeing these implemented for the wellbeing of Bermuda’s young people and community.”