A promise to release information on convicted sex offenders is being praised by one local organisation committed to safeguarding children.
In the Throne Speech delivered on Friday, the Bermuda Government pledged to “selectively release” information to “members of the public” regarding persons who have been convicted of sexually related crimes.
The issue was raised last November when former policeman John “Chalkie” White was released without notice from Westgate, after serving 12 years of an 18-year sentence for sexually assaulting three young boys. Debi Ray-Rivers, executive director and founder of Saving Children and Revealing Secrets, said the organisation is supportive of the initiative and applauded the Government for its decision.
“With that said, we don’t know enough about what information is going to be released and the timing,” she said.
A number of factors — including the timing of information being released — must be considered, Ms Ray-Rivers said.
“Alerting people of who the perpetrator is could protect children but when done too soon, it may also lead to identifying the victim, and as a small community like ours, we need to be sensitive to the needs of the victim and their family,” she said.
The naming of child sex offenders, Ms Ray-Rivers said, need not be immediate.
“There are no children at Westgate,” she said. “The sex offender will not be a threat to children whilst incarcerated; therefore it is not necessary during the sentencing phase or during incarceration to release information to the public,” she said.
Offender treatment, while incarcerated and after release, must be mandated, she said.
“Taking away freedom from convicted sex offenders, like being behind bars for three years, does not take away the thoughts they have of being sexually aroused by a child,” Ms Ray-Rivers said.
“They need treatment and they need a proper assessment of risk, diagnosed by a trained professional.”
According to the Throne Speech, “offenders and the disclosure of their information will be managed according to the risk they pose to the public”.
Ms Ray-Rivers described any offender who has left prison without treatment as high-risk. She likened it to someone admitted to hospital with a heart condition that simply lies in a bed for a month without medical assistance.
“Can someone perform heart surgery on themselves? No, they can’t. So how could a child sex offender treat themselves?”
After July’s General Election, the new government said it had created a “Protocol on Disclosure of Information Identifying Sex Offenders” which would be “distributed among stakeholders to formalise a systematic approach to minimising the risks posed to the public by high-risk offenders”.
Ms Ray-Rivers said that Scars was unaware of what the protocol contains as the organisation was not consulted on it.
She pointed to ten items Scars would like to see within a systematic approach to minimising risk, including mandatory treatment for offenders while incarcerated, the notification of families of victims before the release of an offender, and conditions placed on the offender barring them from living with children and keeping them away from places where children congregate, including playgrounds, parks and schools.
At the same time, any legislation must permit offenders to live without “fear of retribution”, she said.
“This is a complex issue, and we must look at it from all angles.”
Releasing of information to the public is only “part of the puzzle”, Ms Ray-Rivers added.
“It’s not going to solve the problem because it’s after the fact.”
By Paul Johnston The Royal Gazette