SCARS Bermuda said that despite advocating to local legislators for five years, they are “disappointed and concerned” that “nothing has been done to protect the island’s children from sex abuse predators.”
SCARS said that while the community has recently been up in arms about the early release of former policeman and convicted paedophile John Malcolm ‘Chalkie’ White, Jon Brunson, Chairman of the SCARS board, said “the bigger issue here wasn’t one man, but an overall deficit in the system as a whole.”
“This issue didn’t begin with John Malcolm ‘Chalkie’ White and won’t end with him unless something drastic is done by those in a position of authority,” Mr Brunson explained. “
This problem has been in place for years and years and I don’t think anyone in a legislative position in Bermuda can say we haven’t advised them of these risks.
“Unfortunately, no one in a position of power is doing anything about assessing changes in the system that will protect children, even though many of them are parents themselves.
“Right now if a sex offender is convicted and goes to jail it wouldn’t be hard to make it mandatory for them to go through some rehabilitation by a trained Psychiatrist and get them reassessed to see if they could be safely reintegrated back into the community.
“However, the way our system is set up this treatment is optional for them. It’s a fundamental mistake that will set the perpetrator up to fail.”
Debi Ray-Rivers, the charity’s founder and executive director, said other jurisdictions take this issue very seriously and Bermuda, on the other hand, “still isn’t getting it.”
“In the UK they have a trained board these sex offenders have to sit in front of to assess the level of risk. The US has systems in place as well and have a public sex offenders list,” Mrs Ray-Rivers said.
“The island has been resistant to a sex offenders list because Bermuda is so small, but in terms of an in-depth assessment that has yet to be implemented by a psychiatrist with experience in understanding the manipulative nature of these sex offenders. Ninety percent of perpetrators are people we know, love or trust.
“On top of that we have no sex offender management or mandated treatment. We have antiquated laws that are failing our children. Children are innocent and can’t protect themselves and these perpetrators can’t fix themselves or change without proper treatment.”
Mr Brunson said perpetrators are often considered to be ‘model prisoners’ while in jail because they are away from any temptation.
“Without children around their trigger isn’t there,” he said. “As a result these offenders have their sentence shortened.
“In ‘Chalkie’ White’s situation his original sentence was 22 years. It was appealed and reduced to 18 years and because he was a model prisoner he was let out in 12 years,” Mr Brunson said. “But how are you going to know how well he is when he opted not to be assessed and had no rehabilitation?
“Another huge concern is if these perpetrators serve their sentence they don’t have to report to a probation officer. They are free to roam the community and do whatever they wish. There need to be safe zones that sex offender cannot cross including schools, playgrounds and other establishments frequented by children and families.
“Without those in place we are doing a huge disservice to our children, the perpetrators and our community by not getting them the proper help they need.”
Child sexual abuse changes the lives of young people forever, Mrs Ray-Rivers explained.
“We are talking about children who will be scarred for the rest of their lives. For the last five years, we have been working with adults who are scarred because of what happened to them as children. It’s very serious.
“The risk is too great if we don’t mandate counselling before an offender is released back into the community. If we don’t do that and the person reoffends then another child’s life is changed forever,” Mrs Ray-Rivers continued. “I’m a survivor and our family has personally experienced this first hand.”
Although SCARS say legislators have been slow to act on this issue, many in the community have swiftly taken up this charge.
Local sporting clubs, churches, charities, summer camps and schools have mandated that adults working with children be certified in some form of child sex abuse offender training through the charity.
“It’s the people who see the risk and are close to our children and they have made a decision that something has to change,” Mr Brunson said. “This is not coming from the legislators. It’s a grass roots movement to affect change.
“That’s why we were disappointed to read these articles in the paper about these perpetrators. It’s good that these stories are coming to light, but they are missing the point.
“It’s not about ‘Chalkie’ White, it’s about every sex offender, those before and after him, and until we change the system and those who have the ability to change the system act, the risks are still the same.
“There needs to be some sort of checklist so when offenders are released schools and parents are notified of what has to happen to better protect our children.”
Danielle Riviere, the SCARS project manager, said all the information and research had been made readily available and shared with politicians.
“SCARS has been down the path the community is going down now of shock and anger about this issue, but now we as a community need to get to the next phase of applying the solutions,” said Ms Riviere.
“There is this myth this issue is just coming to the forefront, when in reality for far too long this has been happening and nothing has been done. Now it’s time to act.”
SCARS statement comes as well known football Coach Andrew Bascome spoke out about being molested, saying at at a press conference today, “You don’t know what kids are going through, I have been through that. I’ve been molested. All I want to do, is just teach football and just give back to football and try to just help that one kid that might not have any hope and feel worthless and useless.”