Public consultation: Sex Offenders Register must strike balance between people’s protection and perpetrators’ rights

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By Elesha George

[email protected]

The need to strike a balance between protecting potential victims of sexual crimes and respecting the constitutional rights of sex offenders was the discourse of Friday’s consultation on the Sex Offenders Registry Bill.

After more than two hours of deliberations, law makers and civil society groups, while all agreeing that the registry is well overdue, were conflicted on the extent of which the register should be made accessible to the public.  

“No law is going to satisfy everybody. There will always be somebody who is going to object,” remarked chairman of the review committee and Minister of Public Safety Steadroy Benjamin.

Board members present at the consultation included Education Minister Daryll Matthew, Gender Affairs Minister Dean Jonas and Member of Parliament for Barbuda Trevor Walker.

They were joined by members of the Antigua and Barbuda Evangelical Alliance, President of Women Against Rape Alexandrina Wong, teacher, advocate and counsellor Dr Cleon Athill, and drafters of the bill.

Minister Jonas expressed very strongly his support for the register to be made public, describing sexual crimes as “crimes of passion” that cannot be controlled and therefore strict measures should be taken to ensure their crimes are not likely to be repeated.

“We have to file a public registry especially for crimes like these. I am concerned about the victims – the victims and the potential victims; that is who we need to be concerned about here – protecting children,” he argued.

Dr Athill also believed that the public should have access to the register, saying sexual predators put everyone at risk.

“I think the public ought to be in a position to help the courts, the police and the legal system to keep track of this problem,” she said.

On the other hand, MP Walker is against making the register public, telling colleagues that “there must be parity” for offenders to be given a fair chance to live a peaceful life after imprisonment.

While endorsing the bill, Wong’s position was that any information to be made public must “do no harm” to the victim or the rehabilitation process of the offender.

“We need to look at how the offender can be further harmed by society. We have all of these cusps, how small our society is, how people can be impacted emotionally and everything else.

“For us, the challenge is the process,” she noted.

Her views were in line with those of church representatives like Bishop Mottley who insisted that the register should not hinder the process of a person’s reintegration into society after they have served their time in prison.

The process by which information on the register is shared and to whom complaints would be made was also a major talking point. All agreed that a proper process needs to be established to protect the integrity of the list and the lives of those on it.

Minister Matthew shared that he would prefer a unit be established to accept applications from persons who wish to request information and then have the results of that request sent to the relevant authorities who would then deal with whatever situation arises.

The bill proposes that people 18 years and older who are convicted of rape by a court in Antigua and Barbuda or within the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) be compiled into a registry which can later be used to identify potential predators.

The draft law speaks to making the registry available to principals and managers of schools, childcare facilities, and other bodies involved with the care and education of children and vulnerable persons.

It also lists fines and penalties that anyone who breaches the law can be subject to. For example, a person who maliciously shares information obtained from the sex offenders register, once convicted, can face a fine of $10,000 or three years’ imprisonment.  

In addition, sex offenders must register with the police after incarceration, report any change to their place of residence and inform the police of their intention to travel outside of the territory.

The National Sex Offenders Register aims to reduce incidents of sexual reoffending by monitoring convicted sex offenders and by sharing information with participating jurisdictions within the OECS.  

On Monday, parliamentarians will establish a standing committee to finalise the legal document that will guide the registry.

Opposition Leader MP Jamale Pringle and Maria Bird-Browne, Minister for Housing, Land and Urban Renewal, had been slated to appear but were absent from Friday’s session.

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