By Carlena Knight
Minister of Social Transformation Dean Jonas has welcomed the possible introduction of a sex offenders register.
The Sex Offenders Registry Bill 2022 seeks to see convicted offenders’ names publicly listed, along with other pertinent information like their date of birth, nationality, current home address and workplace in the hopes of making the public aware that a sexual predator may be in their midst.
Discussions on the Bill began for the first time in Parliament yesterday.
Jonas not only approved of the addition of the register, but said the list would go a long way in increasing public safety, especially for minors, amid an alarming number of cases in the last year involving men committing sexual acts against young children.
He said that, as the Minister of Social Transformation, he has a “firsthand insight of what victims have to deal with”.
“Our children must not be left to suffer at the hands of these beasts that lurk among us … we have a duty to protect our society against predators. Can you imagine the psychological trauma, the nightmarish memories that they have to endure?” he said.
“This is a useful instrument for targeting offenders, and [it] arms persons with the information needed to protect themselves and their children.”
Jonas added that despite some pushback, the registry should be made public “as keeping the list private would defeat the entire purpose of the registry”.
He said that countries like the US have had their own registry in place for decades, and it is accessible to the public.
Under the proposed new law, members of the public can make an application to the Police Commissioner to inquire about someone and, if they are on the register, the information will be given.
“Persons must be allowed to have access to this without jumping through all these hoops. This Act is not being made to protect the offenders. This Act is being made to protect the children and women and men from abusers. It is meant to be a deterrent. This Act allows parents to be proactive and the community to be proactive as well.
“The whole point of this is the danger they pose to the community. You cannot keep the information from the community. You cannot set up a registry and keep the registry away from the public,” Jonas said.
Education Minister Daryll Matthew agreed with Jonas.
“Persons must know who these persons are amongst us so that we can protect our children. The public must know. This is not to embarrass anyone but in countries all around the world there is a registry where persons are notified within those communities when John Doe is moving into their neighbourhood.
“You should be able to go and have access to the registry to see if John Doe is an actual sex offender,” Matthew said.
But while Barbuda’s MP Trevor Walker agreed that sexual offences should not be trivialised, he advised that legislation as impactful and sensitive as this should not be implemented due to emotion, but through practical and thorough discussions.
He said that while victims’ rights should be protected, there should be some measure of caution when posting the names of convicted persons as it “may not leave room for someone to rehabilitate”.
He mentioned that there are some particular cases involving remorseful young men who — because their names and other personal information will be plastered in the public domain — could have an “unwelcomed tag for life” despite them trying to change their life around.
“There’s grace. There’s forgiveness and at the end of the day you are not supposed to be tagged as the worst individual in the world,” Walker said.
“My point to this is, fine, you create the register and you are going to have malicious intent; face it, we are a small community.
“You want the information, you create a simple process as the Bill suggests whether it’s a two-line application and then you make it and the reason why. You must say the reason why because under our constitution we have a right to privacy; it is there in section two.”
If the Bill becomes law, offenders would have to provide certain information requested by the Commissioner of Police. If they plan to move or leave the country, they would have to inform law enforcement authorities of their whereabouts.
Failure to provide such information could result in jail time or a fine.
Day one of discussions ended amicably with the Attorney General taking note of the concerns raised by MP Walker.
Discussions on the Sex Offenders Registry Bill are expected to continue at the next Parliament sitting.