House Begins Debate on Sexual Offences Act


Debate on the Sexual Offences Act 2008, which seeks to bring under one umbrella, the various laws relating to rape, incest and other sexual offences, began in the House of Representatives yesterday (Jan. 27).
The Bill repeals the Incest (Punishment) Act and several provisions of the Offences Against the Person Act relating to rape and other sex crimes.
Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, who opened the debate, stated that the legislation is one that has been “anxiously awaited, strenuously advocated for and extensively deliberate on.”
“This Bill has been long in coming, it actually commenced in 1995 when separate Bills seeking to amend the Offences Against the Person Act and the Incest (Punishment) Act were brought to Parliament. They sought to expand the scope and the circumstances in which rape was committed,” Mr. Golding said.
According to the Memorandum of Objects and Reasons of the Act, the Bill provides for a statutory definition of rape.
“In this new Bill, we have sought to put beyond any doubt, any ambiguity about what sexual intercourse is,” Mr Golding stated. “So many times, persons were charged for rape and … were acquitted because people were able to find a way through this ambiguity, when a grievous assault had, in fact, been committed against a person. Because of the lack of clarity in the law, juries were reluctant to hand down guilty verdicts and judges might have been constrained to give certain directions to the jury because of what the law provided,” he explained.
Other areas covered in the Bill include martial rape, specifying the circumstances in which such rape may be committed.
Mr. Golding said that caution had to be exercised to avoid abuse of the law, especially in cases where relationships become turbulent and “perhaps, for a moment, there are feelings of vindictiveness that can find their expression in abusing a provision. Care had to be taken to ensure that marital rape was confined to particular circumstances.”
According to the Bill, a husband commits the offence of rape against his wife, if he has sexual intercourse with his wife without her consent, and knowing that she does not consent to sexual intercourse, or recklessly not caring whether or not she consents.
The Act also provides for the establishment of a Sex Offenders Registry, to be maintained by the Commissioner of Corrections, which will contain a list of sex offenders, to be known as the Offenders Register.
The register will record every sexual offence conviction and released convicts are required to report in person, within three days of release, to the Registry. “You have to report to the Registry every time you leave the island. If you are changing your address, you have to report to the Registry within 14 days of change of address and in any case, you have to report to the Registry at least once a year and this is mandatory,” Mr. Golding told the House.
Meanwhile, in her comments, Leader of the Opposition, Portia Simpson Miller, expressed support for the provisions to the Bill.
“The outcomes represented in this Bill, represent a continuing journey and they have come about as a result of the selflessness of several individuals, various groups and institutions stretching back to the early 1990s,” Mrs. Simpson Miller said.
Debate on the legislation will continue next Tuesday (Feb. 3) in the House of Representatives.

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