By Orville Williams
Ahead of today’s discussion on the proposed National Sex Offender Register Bill, a group of residents is supporting its passage as an important tool to help protect women and children.
The bill – which was tabled in Parliament on Monday – proposes that sex offenders be required to inform the police of changes in their address, or any plans to travel or move abroad.
Those liable to be included in the register are people convicted of indecent assault, sexual assault and sexual indecency, and the offences covered include incest, prostitution involving a minor and the distribution of child pornography.
Further, members of the public who wish to know whether someone has been convicted of a sex crime, and whether they are on the register, must apply to the Police Commissioner to get that information.
A Parliamentary subcommittee is scheduled to meet this morning to hold discussions on the bill, as part of government’s plans to engage members of the public on the matter.
Ahead of that meeting, some residents spoke to Observer on the importance of the register as a means of protecting vulnerable persons.
“Personally, I do think that the Sex Offenders Register will play a vital role in protecting our women and children. It has been long overdue; we have been crying out for legislation like this for many years now.
“I think it will add that extra layer of protection and allow our women and children to feel more at ease, and it will also help as a deterrent to those who think about committing any sort of heinous crimes against [women and children].
“I do believe this is a step in the right direction, to help us to start to alleviate some of the issues we see in society today,” Richard* declared.
All Saints resident Diana* agreed with Richard’s sentiments, saying, “while we do have a pseudo-list mentally, it would be good to have the necessary names out there on paper”.
She noted too that she will be watching the discussions carefully to ensure the components of the bill are adequate enough to protect those in need of protection, and that they cover all offenders equally.
“We need to ensure that the authorities are held accountable to ensure that the names that need to be on the list are [actually] on the list, and not just a select few,” she said.
Progress on this new legislation has been a long time coming, with residents arguing for years that more needs to be done to protect women and girls across the country; there has been renewed public pressure lately amid a dramatic spike in the number of reported incidents of sexual violence.
Over the past few months, a slew of underage girls have been sexually assaulted in the country, and calls for urgent action reached a tipping point after a man was sentenced to just over five years in prison for raping a five-year-old girl.
“I think it’s long overdue…we’re in the year 2022 having a discussion on whether [the Sex Offenders Register] is an important part of protecting [women and girls].
“Identifying the predators that we have within our society, our small island, is an important step toward seeing a decrease or an absolute [end] to sex crimes,” Joshua* commented.
While several residents are in favour of a comprehensive Sex Offenders Register, there are concerns about the potential negative effects.
Some persons are of the belief that the stigmatisation and harassment that comes with being named a sex offender could be a violation of persons’ rights to live a safe, comfortable life after serving time.
It remains to be seen what, if any, considerations will be given to that aspect of sex offence incidents, but the staunchest supporters of the bill will be hoping that the focus will largely be on protecting potential victims by any means necessary.
Today’s meeting is scheduled to start at 10.30am at the Parliament Building on Queen Elizabeth Highway.
The subcommittee is being chaired by Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin, and also includes Opposition Leader Jamale Pringle, Barbuda MP Trevor Walker, and MPs Dean Jonas, Daryll Matthew and Maria Bird-Browne.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of sources.