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Scars: Child sex abuse cases must change

Scars holds regular training sessions

The collapse of a court case against a teacher accused of sexually exploiting three different students has prompted a call for changes in the way such cases are conducted.

The recommendations came from Scars, a charity dedicated to fighting child sex abuse, educating the community and providing a voice for victims.

The teacher had been accused in September of ten counts of sexual exploitation of a young person, plus five counts of intruding on the privacy of a young person, with three different complainants.

Earlier this month in the Supreme Court, Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons ruled that there was no case to answer, thus exonerating the accused.

“My daughter did a fantastic job but the case never made it to the jury,” the father of the primary complainant told The Royal Gazette. “I think it would have been better served if she had gone by herself.

“I will continue to fight for my daughter — she has given me permission to go ahead and speak. So my next step is to align myself with Scars and try to bring about some kind of change. These allegations involved locked doors during school hours. I’m not interested in naming, blaming and shaming.”

He said the case had proven gruelling for his teenage daughter, a minor.

“She’s an amazing girl. Her evidence in chief took maybe a day, then she came back and gave another two days’ cross examination. She was very articulate but it was still very draining and fatiguing.

“I had to give evidence as well; it was my first time in court. It was very hard to be up there and give evidence for an hour. It’s just not a place for a minor, standing in front of strangers and the accused. I definitely feel it’s something that could be changed.”

The man, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, said he had been taking Scars’s training programme for recognising and preventing child sexual abuse, and is now set to become a trainer.

“I want to tell my story in the hope that others will be spared from it,” he said. “All we have to do is hope that somebody else doesn’t go through this.”

Scars chairman Jon Brunson and founder and executive director Debi Ray-Rivers, both of whom observed the case, acknowledged the need for cases to be heard in open court so that justice could be seen by the public as being done.

However, for young witnesses, Mr Brunson said it was “almost like they are in trouble for telling the truth”, having to face not only the accused in close quarters but his supporters and members of the public.

Added Ms Ray-Rivers: “You can still have a fair trial while giving them the protection that they should have. Even as an adult, you’re traumatised by court cases.” Both said they felt witnesses were intimidated by speaking in open court.

In this particular case, the allegations of locked doors made both question the code of conduct in place for teachers. The Royal Gazette requested details on that policy but was unable to get a response.

However, Scars acknowledged an “excellent” rapport with the ministry, and said the minister Wayne Scott had taken their training course, which has been taken up by schools all over the Island. Bermuda’s educators are held to a high standard under legislation, including the Vulnerably Persons Policy.

Scars training has gone out to just short of 3,000 people, which is more than five per cent of the population, Mr Brunson said.

“There’s a theory that once you pass five per cent, the movement starts to generate its own energy and force,” he added. “I believe that to be true.”

Ms Ray-Rivers urged parents to get educated and ask questions, noting that a summer camp operator had been trained and certification within days of being asked by parents. “Our training is not going to stop someone from wanting to sexually abuse a child, but it’s making the Island safer,” she said.