Child sex abuse awareness training should be mandatory for judges and magistrates, a child protection charity said this week.

Jon Brunson, executive director of SCARS, a body that works to prevent of child sex abuse, was speaking after Senior Magistrate Archibald Warner handed out a suspended sentence to a man who admitted having sex with a 14-year-old girl (see reference in story above).

Mr Brunson said: “Justices like Archibald Warner and other people in the legal profession should seek to be certified in some sort of child protection training.”

He suggested that a suspended sentence effectively “condones” the offence, which is “a tragedy… It’s an adult responsibility to protect children and this is not happening.”

He added that such sentences gives credence to the view that judges sometimes seem more concerned about the welfare of the perpetrator than the victim, and other children: “It’s disappointing when you see the prevalence of sexual abuse of children.”

Mr Brunson pointed out that many organisations, including police officers involved in investigating sex crimes, doctors, teachers, charities and staff from Government’s Family Services Department, had all undergone SCARS courses in how to recognise, prevent and respond to child sex abuse.

But he said that there was no drive to ensure that judges, magistrates or lawyers, who deal with child sex offences in court on a regular basis, had any training in the subject at all.

Mr Brunson said: “That level of training should certainly be required of the judiciary. This is the type of legislative change we need if we are going to be serious about stamping out this serious crime.

“People need to do the right thing – and I don’t think the right thing has been done here.”

He added: “This young girl is going to be affected, whether they say she was willing or not, for the rest of her life. They are willing to conceal her name because she is a minor and a victim, yet they are treating her as if she was an adult by the way they have meted out the sentence.”

Mr Brunson said that US statistics showed that one in four females and one in six males would be sexually abused before they reached the age of 18. He added: “That would most definitely hold true in Bermuda as well, based on talks with the vulnerable victims unit of the police and other organisations.”

Ajani Albuoy-Lovell, who was 21 at the time of the offences, was also given two years’ probation and ordered to undergo rehabilitation treatment as directed by Court Services.

Mr Brunson was backed by Sheelagh Cooper of the Coalition for the Protection of Children.

She said: “The recent comments made by Magistrate Warner which accompanied the sentencing of the 22-year-old man are very disturbing indeed. The magistrate referred to ‘the willing and eager participation of the victim’. This reference to the contributing role played by a 14-year-old middle school student demonstrates a profound lack of appreciation for the intent of the legislation. It ignores the fact that in law a child is not capable of consent to any sexual activity of this sort with anyone, much less with an adult.”

She added that the comment and the sentence reflect “part of a pattern” in Magistrates’ Court in which she sees bias exercised in favour of sexual predators at the expense of the child victims. And Ms Cooper said: “This child has barely reached adolescence and it is preposterous to suggest that she was an equal, willing and indeed eager participant. A fullly grown adult has had sexual relations with a child of 14 and there can be nothing mutual about that.

“Those who understand the dynamics of paedophilia know that in most cases, the victim has been sufficiently groomed that they are often compliant. If compliance is the measuring stick, one could only imagine what the future holds for our children

“It is because of this kind of what we consider to be a misunderstanding of the rights of children to be protected that we must call for a serious commitment on the part of the Chief Justice for ongoing and substantial judicial training. Statements like these and the sentiments behind them have no place in a 21st Century court room.”

By Raymond Hainey, Senior Reporter Bermuda Sun