By Maurice Tomlinson
Below is an open letter to Justice Minister Mark Golding.
I write to urge reconsideration of the proposed sex-offender registry in Jamaica. In the words of Yvonne McCalla-Sobers, "In a country as small and retributive as Jamaica, a sex offender registry can be the same as a vigilante directory. And women and children will still be sexually abused if we continue to focus on punishment rather than prevention."
Honourable Minister, as an attorney, I am sure you are aware that such a registry, even if private, violates a central legal tenet, which is that once an individual has paid for a crime, he should no longer continue to face sanctions.
A sex offender registry will expose a released sex offender to potential violations of his right to privacy. In Jamaica's small, close-knit society, which is highly motivated by vigilante justice (as seen from recent incidents surrounding alleged sexual offenders in western Jamaica), it is illogical to assume that the data on the registry will NOT be leaked to citizens. This will have disastrous consequences for alleged offenders AND their families.
I need not remind you of the recent incident in Zion, Trelawny, where an innocent heterosexual man was hacked to death, his home firebombed and his daughter savagely chopped up because a young gay relative (who had, in fact, left the community four months prior) was accused of sodomising and drowning two youngsters. The pathologist's report found no evidence of sodomy; however, this young man and his mother are now on the run for their lives.
The registry would also violate the principle of equality before the law, as there is no registry for even more egregious crimes, such as murder.
Further, if the registry is private, it will serve the same purpose of a police report, and is, therefore, unnecessary. Most employers in sensitive industries, such as childcare, already require police reports, which would capture the sort of information in a sex-offender registry.
Finally, the registry will be futile, as evidence proves that most sexual offences are committed by close relatives and friends, and not complete strangers moving into the community.
There are many other arguments against a sex-offender registry, as found in the link below to a report on the subject produced by Human Rights Watch: http://www.hrw.org/reports/2007/09/11/no-easy-answers-0
I would, therefore, urge that instead of the Band-Aid approach being pursued in setting up a registry (giving the public a false sense of security that something is being done to address the horrendous cases of sexual abuse in Jamaica), rather serious consideration be given to the following recommendations proposed by Mrs McCalla-Sobers to prevent the sexual abuse of women and children:
- Identifying the rape 'hot spots' (such as unlit streets and uncleared lots) and putting protective measures in place.
- Identifying women and children who are vulnerable to rape and putting protective measures in place for them.
- Studying those convicted of sex crimes, to identify what steps need to be taken to help youth to be socially responsible.
- Educating parents, teachers, and the general public so they can recognise signs that a child is being sexually molested.
- Providing help and support for sexually abused children and their families.
- Educating children, parents, and the general public on sex and sexuality, and on appropriate and inappropriate touches.
- Providing safe spaces where children and youth can be supervised out of school by caring and responsible adults.
- Providing resources for trauma and grief counselling for rape survivors: boys and girls, men and women.
- Implementing laws and international conventions to protect the rights of women and children.
- Enabling the public to understand their contribution to justice as jurors and witnesses.
- Ensuring the rights of victims and witnesses are protected before, during, and after trial.
- Providing the police with the resources they need to enable speedy and effective collection of evidence.
- Ensuring prosecutors have time and resources to provide the courts with evidence that can lead to conviction.
- Organising court space, time, and personnel so trials can be prompt.
- Ensuring that lockups and prisons return males to society rehabilitated rather than enraged and further damaged.
Maurice Tomlinson is legal adviser, Marginalized Groups, AIDS-Free World. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.