How does a five-year sentence for child sex abuse become 18 months? We must do better
A 43-year-old child sex offender, who used a child for his own sexual gratification, was released on Christmas Eve after serving only 18 months of a five-year sentence handed down in November 2019.
The community has a right to know some important details such as:
- Why were the public not informed in advance of his release?
- Was it because he was not deemed “dangerous” towards children? If so, what was that based on? His good behaviour and nice personality while incarcerated? Let us not forget his triggers — young children — are not in prison. A 40-year-old grown adult who is sexually attracted to a young boy, and has a history of acting upon his attraction, is a huge danger to the children of Bermuda
- How can a conviction in the Supreme Court, using taxpayer dollars, and a five-year sentence by an esteemed and learned puisne judge be significantly reduced by 70 per cent?
- Who is responsible for accurately assessing this child sex offender to determine whether he is considered dangerous and a risk to children in our community?
- Was he provided with the most effective specialised treatment used for those who gain sexual pleasure from children? Is that an 18-month treatment plan?
- How many professionals accurately assessed him, and what was that based on? His nice personality? His ability to take instructions and get along with others? His willingness to participate in a few psychological appointments?
- Is the person who assessed him for early release the same person who treated him? (Remember, he was sentenced to five years.) Will he be required to continue treatment?
- Why was he rewarded by being released 3½ years in advance?
One might wonder why he was no longer considered dangerous to the children of Bermuda only after a year and a half of treatment. I suppose one could ask: “What is the definition of dangerous”?
The definition of dangerous is something that is potentially harmful.
Let us be clear, child sex offenders cause traumatic harm to our vulnerable and cause the loss of innocence! A sexually abused child will never be the same.
Some may think that the word “dangerous” applies only to those who murder. Well, guess what? A child sex offender can kill a child’s spirit and change the life of a child for ever! That can be a life sentence; not a mere 18 months! Many Bermudian victims of child sexual abuse leave the island because the fear and pain of running into convicted child sex offenders is that great.
Let us all be reminded that children are unable to detect manipulation and deception — known as grooming — simply because they are children. Child sex offenders do not walk around with a sign on their forehead that states they have this illness. Anonymity is their hiding place. This is precisely why the public need to know when any child sex offender is released so that family and youth-serving organisations are on alert. If we think that child sex offenders are not considered “dangerous to children”, we ourselves are being manipulated.
As a child advocate in this community, I find it concerning that we can believe that a child sex offender after 18 months of treatment is safe to be alone with children.
Have his thoughts changed? Has he admitted that he suffers from being sexually aroused by children? One would think that takes years of treatment, management and support.
We must do better for our children! We must not provide our community with a false sense of security when we headline five years when what that really could mean is 18 months.
• Debi Ray-Rivers is the executive director of the child sexual abuse prevention organisation Saving Children and Revealing Secrets