by Dr Augustine Panchoo
Everyone agrees that one incident of child sexual abuse is too many. However, a closer look at the current statistics regarding child sexual abuse in Grenada reveals an alarming rise in sexual crimes against children. Approximately 60% of the cases listed for the assizes are sexually related offences.
Between the months of May-June 2018, we saw Maulty resident Michael Christopher being charged with 10 counts of sexual and indecent assault on minors. Then a church elder, Raymond John of Paradise was arrested and charged for having sexual intercourse with his 13-year-old niece. St Paul’s resident Raul Roberts received an 11-year sentence for impregnating his stepdaughter, and only a few weeks ago 61-year-old St Patrick’s resident Lloyd Roberts was charged with 9 counts of sexual offences against minors.
The call for stiffer penalties and a more comprehensive programme to combat Child Sexual Abuse has been made. Between September and November 2017, the Government of Grenada through Cabinet established a committee to help find ways to keep our children safe and a program to deter adult offenders from committing acts against children and women. In fact, Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell promised to make more money available to fight against incidences of child abuse. Additionally, there have been sentiments echoed by the Minister responsible for Social Services, Hon. Delma Thomas, Minister responsible for Health, Hon. Nickolas Steele, Sex Offences Grenada, the RGPF, NGOs and other strategic partners, sensitising and encouraging all and sundry to join in the movement to do more in protecting our children.
One of the deterrents that has been given much airtime is the establishment of a Sex Offender Registry. Many have called for Grenada to have a registry for all sex offenders. Senior High Court Judge Madam Justice Paula Gilford made a call to the authorities to introduce a sex offender register to deal with the increase of sex-related offences making their way before the court. Madam Justice Paula Gilford, one of the most respected judges on the island made the call while delivering a 39-year judgment to a 59-year-old man whose identity was kept undisclosed, after he pleaded guilty to 6 out of 8 counts of sex-related offences, committed against 3 of his daughters, all under the age of 15.
Recently, City attorney, Cajeton Hood, speaking about the newly launched website, Sex Offences Grenada, introduced the need to engender public discussion before such a task is undertaken. I agree with Hood that careful considerations must be given before the establishment of a sex offender registry can happen. What is strange, however, are the calls made by politicians, lawmakers and policy makers for the establishment of a sex offender registry. The very ones calling for it are the ones who have the power and authority to make laws and institute policies to keep our women and children safe. Cease asking for it to be done. Act proactively and do it. Only you can make it happen. The public, survivors and victims of sexual abuse are counting on you.
A sex offender registry is only a small part of what should be a bigger plan for protecting our children and women. As a deterrent, a sex offender registry will serve little good if there are no established rules and regulations for its operations. A registry cannot hold a sex offender accountable since it is only a registry of names and accompanying pictures. A sex offender registry must find its strength in the law. The law must validate its existence. Therefore, what must first happen are a series of well-calculated steps which include:
- Establishing a law which sets up and gives credence to a sex offender registry.
- The law must set up the parameters for the sex offender registry. Protocols and rules which governs things such as residence, movement, curfew, and limitations for sex offenders.
- Determining under which ministry or entity the oversight of the sex offender registry will fall.
- Deciding if sex offenders will be placed on probation and who will monitor these sex offenders when they are released from prison.
- Establishing guidelines for monitoring, treatment, restitution and rehabilitation of convicted sex offenders while in prison as well as when released.
As one would imagine, for it to be effective, a sex offender registry must have the support of the lawmakers of our country. This support includes the RGPF, the judges, and relevant ministries of government, the strategic partners and stakeholders such as the churches and NGOs and the Grenadian community. Our children, vulnerable citizens and women need a community system which seeks to protect, support and keep them safe. Our politicians and lawmakers cannot continue to give lip service to the need to have a complete system of dealing with sexual predators. We cannot rely on the hype generated after an incident of rape or incest but then return to business as usual. Grenada does have a high percentage of sexual predators, and it is time for us to develop and implement a programme to address this social disease.
There is a dire need for our laws and legal system to establish the framework for that safer society. In addition to establishing a sex offender registry, instituting laws which are friendly to children and women, the Ministries of Social Affairs, Youth, Education and Legal Affairs must create a plan for the education, support and sensitisation of the Grenadian public to the traumatic effects of sexual crimes against our women and children. Until these things are done, politicians and lawmakers should keep quiet, and a sex offender registry will have to wait.
Dr Augustine Panchoo is a psychologist and professor with specialised training as a sex offender treatment professional.