DPP Sounds off on sexual crimes

Image of CHARLES-CLARKE [PHOTO: Nationwide]

Time for New Approaches By All.

Image of CHARLES-CLARKE [PHOTO: Nationwide]
THE Director of Public Prosecutions states that the time has come for the adoption of new approaches by all stakeholders in dealing with sexual offences. It is time to broaden the legislative framework and adopt institutional and attitudinal changes in dealing with this situation. We now need to look at international standards and adopt the approaches that have worked and generate results in other jurisdictions. The high incidence of sexual offences is a global phenomenon but it is time we stop the rhetoric every time there is a report of someone being raped or a child is sexually abused and begin to implement measures that will bring results.

Over the years St. Lucia’s legal system has undergone reform and we have some very progressive laws relating to sexual offences. Under our laws cases of sexual assault are heard in camera and the law provides for restrictions on the reporting of these cases. The are also laws which make it easier for vulnerable witnesses including children and victims of sexual offences to give evidence by way of video link so that they do not have to be in the same place as the perpetrator when giving evidence. We also have provisions which allow the statement of the victim to be tape recorded by the police and for this to be used as evidence in court if that victim is a child. This saves them the trauma of having to recount the entire incident again before the court. They can then be cross examined by the defence based on the tape recorded statement. The law also provides for mandatory reporting of sexual assault cases by parents and guardians, teachers, social workers and medical practitioners.

However, there is a lot of room for improvement and there are many reasons why we do not see more success in the prosecution of sexual offences before the courts. One reason is lack of resources. As a prosecutorial agency the office of Director of Public Prosecutions is plagued with a severe lack of resources and other limitations which we have to grapple with on a daily basis. We do not have adequate lawyers and other staff such as welfare officers as exists in other jurisdictions to deal specifically with victims of sexual abuse. The same lawyer who prepares and prosecutes the case has to attend to all the needs of that witness or victim. In addition the very heavy caseload of each prosecutor makes it difficult for them to give individualized and specialized attention in each case. There is no specialized unit dealing with the prosecution of sexual offences at the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions. Currently of the 1923 indictable cases before the Criminal High Court, 533 are sexual offences ranging from rape, sexual intercourse with a minor, unlawful sexual connection, gross indecency and buggery and incest among others. Most of these offences are committed against minors.

In addition there is a long delay in the trial of these matters due to the backlog in the criminal justice system and prosecutors are fully aware of the effect these delays can have on victims and how it affects their ability to give evidence. Indeed the longer the case takes to go to trial the less likely victims or witnesses will come forward to give evidence and the less likely it will be to get a conviction.

There is a high incidence of witnesses recanting their story or not willing to give evidence either because they have been influenced, intimidated or bribed or in some cases because of shame and the desire to avoid being further traumatized. This phenomenon of entering into these informal and unlawful arrangements is one of the biggest factors which prevent victims from giving evidence in court.

Other problems include a lack of adequate support systems, counselling, victim support groups and proper social services for victims of sexual abuse. Currently the absence of forensic facilities is a major setback in the successful investigation and prosecution of sexual offences.

The time has come to employ new measures and approaches to deal with these problems which affect the successful prosecution of sexual offences. One such measure is the establishment of a specialized court dedicated to hear cases of sexual assault. Such a court should be manned by specially trained officials equipped with the right training, tools and facilities, who will adopt the right procedures to enable witnesses to give their evidence in an environment that is comfortable and will assist in reducing the chances of further trauma for them. Provisions must be made for adequate psychological care and support for victims of sex crimes at the time of the incident, during the court process and after they have given evidence. There should also be an effective court preparation programme to prepare witnesses for court and to provide debriefing after they have testified. This will enable witnesses to give evidence more effectively in court, and reduce the turnaround time of the cases and hopefully increase the conviction rate.

The police and prosecutors need to be sensitized and trained about how to deal with victims of sexual assault and to understand the psycho-social dynamics which accompanies that type of crime. While there is a specialized unit at the Royal St. Lucia Police Force that deals with these cases it is uncertain what level of training they have received. There is also a need to train judicial officers on how to deal with these types of offences. While they must be impartial and must ensure that there is equality of justice, they need to be sensitized to the peculiar dynamics of sexual offences and to look at these types of offences from a human rights and gender based violence perspective.

There is need to review the guidelines on sentencing in sexual offences issued by the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal in 2001. The time has come for these guidelines to be revisited. While our Criminal Code stipulates the maximum penalty for sexual offences, however, sentencing is a judicial process which is exercised at the discretion of the judicial officer. Under the Criminal Code sentences range from life imprisonment for rape; fifteen years for sex with a minor between 12 and 16 years; and life imprisonment for sex with a minor below 12 years. However in 2001 sentencing guidelines in sexual offences were given by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court stipulating the range of sentences giving a minimum starting point and taking various factors into consideration including the age of the victim; the severity of the offence; the emotional and psychological effect on the victim; the age of the offender and the degree of force used in the commission of the offence. There is a view that some of the sentences are too light and so these guidelines need to be revisited to reflect the prevalence of these offences and society’s abhorrence to these types of crime and the severe detrimental impact which these crimes have upon the victim.

It is also necessary to consider the policies for rehabilitation and reform of the offenders. There is a widely accepted view that sex offenders suffer from psychological problems. Our laws have recognized this by providing for psychological assessment and treatment for convicted sex offenders. However it is uncertain whether they receive such treatment and can be cured. There are many cases of recidivism by sex offenders which indicate that either they are not receiving the treatment or they have not been cured of the tendency or desire to commit these acts.

I am also of the view that having a sex offender’s register for repeat sex offenders can act as a deterrent to them and potential offenders. While I do not believe that people should be stigmatized and branded however if a person continues to commit sex crimes these persons become predators and I believe there is an obligation on the State to protect society against such persons by alerting members of the community that this individual has a propensity to commit that type of offence. The legislation will have to determine how many offences this person should be convicted of, before being listed and how the listing should be done. The necessary safeguards would have to be implemented to ensure that there is no discrimination or backlash by persons who may want to take the law into their own hands or seek revenge.

Finally there is need for continuous education of boys, young men, young girls, parents and society in general to understand the dynamics of gender based violence particularly sexual assault so as to engender the need to love, respect and protect the weak and vulnerable. It is also necessary for the State to make adequate provisions for the needs of victims and to implement the appropriate measures to deter offenders.”

1 Comment

  1. Mss Judge you seem to think that men who have sex with teen age
    girls are psychologically sick but you know, most times it is the other
    way around. Most girls who grew up in the hood begin to fool around
    at a very early age. When something happen, or they are caught by
    parents all hell breaks loose.
    on the other hand, Judge, you have some sexy dreamy eyes, beautiful
    sexy white teeth and kissable lips , you must be very romantic, ain’t you?

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