A child safety campaigner has called for urgent investment in more courtroom space so young victims of sex crimes do not have to wait years for their cases to be heard.
Debi Ray-Rivers, the founder an executive director of charity Saving Children and Revealing Secrets, wrote in an opinion piece for The Royal Gazette: “We have a very limited number of courtrooms available for criminal, matrimonial and appeal cases.
“That’s unacceptable. Cases are delayed, which subsequently causes delays in children receiving counselling for the trauma they have endured.
“It’s my understanding that alleged child abuse victims are not offered counselling before or during trials of child sexual abuse cases, for fear of tainting the evidence.
Ms Ray-Rivers added: “What does that mean? It means that children cannot receive healing for their pain, caused by someone else, because we don’t have adequate courtrooms available for these cases to be heard in a timely manner.”
She added that the lack of courtroom space was “ridiculous and inexcusable”.
Ms Ray-Rivers was speaking in an op-ed published today after last week’s conviction of paedophile William Franklyn Smith, 26, who was found guilty by a jury of unlawful carnal knowledge of a girl under 14 and sexual exploitation of a young person by a person in a position of trust.
The offences were reported to the authorities in 2017 but his Supreme Court trial has only just been held. Ms Ray-Rivers said: “The leadership of our island must pool their resources with a sense of urgency to rectify this shortfall to avoid irreparable damage from continuing to the hearts and minds of child sexual abuse victims. The sooner they get help, the quicker they will be put on a path to, hopefully, recovery.”
Ms Ray-Rivers told The Royal Gazette in an interview: “When a child has been scarred from child sexual abuse it affects their soul and their emotions. They don’t even understand what has happened to them.
“It is scary and it is confusing. For there to be such a long delay in child sexual abuse cases is just not good for the child. In a case like this, we need to do everything we can in our power to ensure that the child receives healing immediately from the trauma of child sexual abuse.”
She said the victim in the Smith case was a “hero” and her family should also be applauded.
Ms Ray-Rivers added: “Most children do not report child sexual abuse until they are in their late thirties or forties, till they become an adult, so the bravery it took for this child to disclose what happened to her was huge.
“She had such a support of adults in her life that empowered her and supported her and advocated for her … that’s key.”
Smith is to appeal his conviction and an application by his lawyer for bail is expected to be heard this week. But Ms Ray-Rivers said convicted child sex offenders awaiting sentence should not be bailed.
She wrote: “Giving William Franklyn Smith temporary freedom before he suffers the consequence of his crime against a young child is a reward and this should never happen.
“He has been found guilty in a court of law of committing a sexual crime against a child. If he is free, he could continue to be a risk to our children. Why would we, as a community, take that risk?”
The judiciary highlighted that a lack of court space had contributed to a backlog of criminal cases in its annual report issued earlier this year. It is understood that criminal Supreme Court cases are only being heard in the courtroom on the ground floor of Sessions House and in Magistrates’ Court 4 in the Dame Lois Browne-Evans Building.
The Sessions House courtroom will permanently close once renovations begin on the 200-year-old building in August.
Two other courtrooms which heard Supreme Court and Court of Appeal cases have also closed.
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