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Law brings ‘tears of joy’ from grooming victim

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A woman whose teacher groomed her for sex when she was a 17-year-old schoolgirl said yesterday she was “over the moon” that her public campaign to criminalise such behaviour had persuaded the Government to change the law.

Christine DaCosta was speaking after Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, tabled legislation in the Senate drawn up to outlaw the sexual grooming of children under the age of 18 by teachers and others in positions of trust.

Ms DaCosta said: “I just feel such a sense of accomplishment here and ease and closure, a little bit of closure.

“It just makes this all — the purpose and the reason for me having to take the steps that I took to get this change — a huge win.”

She added: “It is a huge win not only for my personal closure, but it is a huge win for the future generations, knowing that they will be protected.

“I am doing this for the children who need to have a voice, that don't always know how to use it when they are young and vulnerable.”

Ms DaCosta was groomed for sex by her history teacher Robert DiGiacomo, a family friend who was married with three children, while she was a pupil at Mount Saint Agnes Academy. Police told her at the time that he could not be prosecuted as she was over 16, the legal age of consent for sex.

She went public about what happened in March 2019 when she protested outside Parliament for tougher laws against people who exploited minors.

She told her story in The Royal Gazette last October and soon after met Ms Simmons to appeal to her to close a loophole that allowed teachers, sports coaches and others who worked with young people to groom and exploit children over the age of consent.

Ms DaCosta said the minister called her on Tuesday to tell her the Bill would be tabled in the Upper Chamber the next day.

She added: “She wanted to speak to me and tell me personally that our meeting had moved this law and I am just so over the moon.

“I was crying tears of joy. I am so, so, so excited. I just feel like so much went on behind the scenes to get to this point.”

Ms DaCosta said she was invited by the minister to give her views and that she planned to read the amendments carefully.

Ms Simmons wrote in a note to her: “The courage required to publicly expose not only yourself, but the perpetrator by sharing your story was amazing! How do I not respond to that need? I am sincerely grateful to have the honour to serve in this capacity and provide a vehicle to protect our most vulnerable.”

Ms DaCosta said: “Her personal touch in calling me and reaching out to me last night was really heart-warming. We had such a great chat. She wants change for the people and she is heartfelt about it. It was amazing.”

She added: “I just feel so excited that even just a piece of it right now makes everything that much harder to get away with in our law. If all goes well, it will become a criminal offence.”

She said the Bill made her feel that the protest and the newspaper articles, as well as her attempts to encourage other victims of sexual exploitation to come forward, were not wasted efforts.

Ms Simmons told the Upper Chamber that the Criminal Code Amendment Act 2020 would create a new criminal offence of “luring while in a position of trust”.

An offence of “luring” already exists, but only applies in cases where victims are under the age of 16.

The minister said the new offence would also protect young people aged between 16 and 18 if the perpetrator was in a position of trust.

Ms Simmons said: “Society has unfortunately become too aware of instances where teachers and other authority figures have preyed upon our young persons with consistent attempts to engage in inappropriate sexual or romantic relationships.”

She added: “Although 16 and 17-year-olds have reached the age of consent, the overwhelming public sentiment and advocacy supports that sexual relations between adults in positions of trust and young persons between 16 and 17 is improper and must not be tolerated.

“When considering that luring behaviours by a person in a position of trust can take place before a young person reaches the age of consent and persist well beyond 16 years of age, we can see that 16 and 17-year-olds are left exposed to exploitation without legal redress.

“In such scenarios, perpetrators in a position of trust can escape prosecution for luring altogether.”

The offence would carry a maximum penalty of 15 years' imprisonment if tried in the Supreme Court.

Ms Simmons said the amendments would also expand the definition of luring to include written and spoken words.

Mr DiGiacomo, who was 44 when he targeted Ms DaCosta, wrote letters to her and bought her lingerie and jewellery.

The minister said: “Currently ‘luring' targets online or electronic predatory conduct designed to facilitate later sexual activity with a child who is under the age of 16, but there are no protections in place if the communication is in writing or otherwise.

“These aspects have now been addressed in the Criminal Code by including a specific offence for luring by a person in a position of trust in relation to a young person under the age of 18 years old, and extending the current luring offence to include other forms of communication.”

A Ministry of Legal Affairs spokeswoman said last year that the circumstances of Ms DaCosta's story did not “identify a gap in the law”.

But Ms DaCosta's campaign was backed by the Catholic Bishop of Bermuda, charity Saving Children and Revealing Secrets and the Inter-Agency Committee for Children and Families.

Commissioner of Police Stephen Corbishley said sex between teachers or other people in positions of trust and children in their care should be a crime, even if the young person was over the age of consent.

Mr Corbishley welcomed the Bill yesterday.

“Issues of inappropriate behaviour with children and young people is something we need to recognise and encourage more victims to come forward, as they will be supported by the police and other partner agencies,” he said.

“The act of luring — or grooming — now being a criminal act allows us to intervene far earlier to deal with predatory offenders and thereby prevent more serious abuse from taking place.

“I commend Government for taking this important step to protect our younger generation from harm.”

The amendments are expected to be debated at the next session of the Senate, which could be as early as next week, and also must be approved by the House of Assembly before going to the Governor for Royal Assent.

To read Kathy Lynn Simmons's statement in full, click on the PDF link under “Related Media”

Huge win: Christine DaCosta (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs (Photograph supplied)

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Published June 25, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated June 25, 2020 at 9:04 am)

Law brings ‘tears of joy’ from grooming victim

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