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The House of Representatives yesterday (March 21) unanimously approved a motion calling for the establishment of a sexual offenders’ registry and the implementation of a programme for monitoring sex offenders, including notifying victims and the wider community if necessary, when the offender is released.
The private members motion, which spoke specifically to carnal abuse and incest, also requested that the Human Resource and Social Development Committee of the House, urgently conducts a comprehensive review of the social and economic implications of these offences.
The motion, which was piloted two weeks ago by Member of Parliament for South Central St. Catherine, Sharon Hay-Webster, further called for the Committee to consider an assessment of the confinement periods for offenders to include more stringent measures, such as life imprisonment.
Noting that she had first raised the matter in 2001, after coming across a number of cases of sexual abuse in her constituency, Mrs. Hay-Webster stressed the urgency of reviewing the Sexual Offences Bill that had been drafted since 1995.
“Let us have a comprehensive sexual offender’s bill in this House that looks at the issue of stalking, indecent assault, carnal abuse, incest and the establishment of the sexual offenders’ registry,” she stated.
She acknowledged that the process would represent “a paradigm shift for us in the culture of our sexual practices” but noted that, “much of what we have accepted is because we have not been willing to have the conversation and effect change”.
Mrs. Hay-Webster called for particular protection for children, who, in recent times, have been the victims of violent sex crimes. “There seems to be a resurgence of interest in the incidence of sexual abuse. The Women’s Centre (of Jamaica Foundation) and Women Inc. are now deepening the support that they give and are going to undertake a study of the incidence of rape, so we can begin to understand the offenders and look at the issue of treatment,” she stated.
The Member of Parliament pointed out that the recent world report on violence and health had indicated that this issue was a public health consideration that most countries were not giving any review. “We should look at the incidence of sexual abuse and violence and deepen the intervention and conversation, so that it is not something that is under the table that we just whisper about, but that we confront it and find resolution on it,” she told the House.
The Member of Parliament further informed, that the Commissioner of Corrections had advised that rape was the most repeated crime in the island. “It means that there is a deep well of hurt amongst many persons in this nation. It’s about time we begin to effect change,” she remarked.
Supporting the resolution, Health Minister, John Junor, said that a number of fundamental issues had to be addressed, in addition to new legislation. Of particular concern, he said, was parenting, including the fact that many mothers were far too lax in the supervision of their children. This issue, he noted, was of particular concern in instances where mothers were in relationships with men, who were not the biological fathers of their children.
“In many instances of rape, we see this factor coming to the fore. Clearly, in the cases of incest, we have repeatedly seen instances of abuse where mothers tolerate the abuse on the basis of support.sheer economic instances,” he pointed out.
However, Mr. Junor noted, the blame was not to be placed on such mothers, because “the despicable act committed by those males, who prey on young girls and boys, we need to condemn equally”.
He noted that special punishment was necessary to deal with the sexual exploitation of children and that in fact, it was not unreasonable for child murderers to receive the ultimate penalty of hanging. Mr. Junor said that there were too many communities in which sexual abuse of children was open knowledge, but not reported.
Opposition members also gave their full support to the resolution, with Member of Parliament for North Eastern St. Ann, Shahine Robinson, highlighting the need for the police to be provided with deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) technology to help catch perpetrators and to create a database on repeat offenders.
Member of Parliament for Central St. Catherine, Olivia Grange, submitted that legislation must be reformed to factor in the psychological effect on victims. She said public institutions needed to be improved and personnel such as the police should be better trained, to deal with victims of sex crimes.
In his contribution, Member of Parliament for South Western St. Ann, Ernest Smith, said that in addition to a sexual offenders registry, perpetrators should be further exposed by having their names published in the national newspapers.