If we keep in the forefront of our minds that the management of sex offenders in Bermuda is purely about protecting children, if we understand that the average person does not just wake up one day and decide they are suddenly aroused by a child, then we should be outraged and deeply concerned for the innocent and vulnerable in this country.
If we do not provide the most effective treatment — not cure — to child sex offenders, and if those who were convicted for gaining sexual pleasure from a child did not participate in the most effective Healthy Sex Programme, then I think we can agree that those persons, those child sex offenders, pose a high risk to innocent children in this community. They require strict and specific licence conditions upon their release. Even if the most effective treatment programme does not result in the greatest of statistics, what do we really have to lose by mandating participation and progress in the programme for release for the few it does help?
It should not really matter for what reason a child sex offender harms a child because the damage caused to a child who has been sexually violated — whether that is from being exposed to an adult’s genitals, asked to touch an adult’s genitals, an adult kissing a child in a sexual manner, fondling a child’s genitals or any private part of the child’s body — far outweighs any costs to this country’s public purse.
Why? Because the impact of child sexual abuse is not only devastating to survivors, but also affects those close to them, as well as the surrounding community. It is the root cause of many social and health issues, and touches every single one of us in one way or the other. The associated costs are included in healthcare, criminal justice, child welfare, academic problems, teen pregnancy, oversexualised behaviour problems, emotional and mental health problems, substance abuse problems beginning in childhood or adolescence lasting into adulthood, and obesity and eating disorders, which can result in diabetes and heart disease. There are also academic challenges, relationship challenges, addiction, homelessness and suicide.
This silent epidemic affects us all. According to research, the average cost for each victim of child sexual abuse is $210,000, and the offenders don’t stop at one child. Let’s do the maths on that because research tells us that nearly 70 per cent of child sex offenders have as many as nine victims; at least 20 per cent have between ten and 40 victims. The average serial child molester may have as many as 400 victims in their lifetime, and we’re concerned about spending $130,000 a year for imprisoning someone who has changed a child’s life for ever! The impact of an offender who does anything sexual to a child is devastating both emotionally and financially.
We do not need a reason to hold convicted child sex offenders accountable — because it is against the law and morally wrong. Research shows that child sex offenders do not stop with one child. I have never spoken to an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse who has said they thrived from their sexual harm. No, what I have heard from thousands are stories of drug addiction, alcoholism, anger, anxiety, depression, child pregnancy, cutting, post-traumatic stress disorder, bed-wetting, years of therapy, sexual promiscuity, fear, body dysmorphic disorder, trust issues, a life of crime, and even suicidal thoughts.
Sadly, there is no absolute solution or cure for paedophilia. So the question is, what should we do with those that change a child’s life for ever? We cannot blame reoffending on the most effective treatment programmes — which, by the way, are not offered at Westgate. We should never be OK with anyone claiming that they should not be punished because locking them up and providing treatment will only increase the risk of reoffending. No, we must provide them with strict provisions: a description and list of hazards to help avoid returning to their lost freedom.
When a child sex offender is released from prison after serving their time, they must know in advance the hazards up ahead and a list of things they must do to avoid another prison term. Upon offending, these perpetrators lose their right to have a voice in the intervention and consequences given to them because of their behaviour. The most damaging consequences lie in the eyes, faces and lives of the children they violated. If they do not adhere to these provisions, they will have brought the punishment upon themselves.
We not only want what is best for children, which is the freedom to be a child, but we want what is best for the child sex offender who is truly remorseful and who does not wish to reoffend.
The ultimate and most prioritising element is doing what is best to protect children. All other elements are addressed thereafter.
• Debi Ray-Rivers is the founder and executive director of the child sexual abuse prevention organisation Saving Children and Revealing Secrets