By Carlena Knight
The Commissioner of Police has reiterated calls for the public to be more responsible with the use of social media, especially in relation to active court cases involving sexual offences.
Recently, an article was published in certain sections of the media surrounding an ongoing police investigation into an alleged sexual offence. This prompted members of the public to weigh in on the matter where they posted several damaging comments on social media.
Yesterday, Atlee Rodney, sought to explain some of the ramifications sharing information on social media would have on the victim or even the accused if the identity of either is exposed.
The law prohibits the names of both victims and defendants in a sexual offence case from being identified. A defendant can only be named if convicted.
“Even the after-effect of identifying a person in such a heinous crime, if the person is not convicted and is exposed, it does not do any good to the person and to society,” Rodney said.
“Same thing with the victim, if you expose the victim of such a traumatic experience, persons can easily identify them and point fingers and then you are creating much more hardship for them, even long after the incident and even long after the judicial process.
“So, there is a responsibility from the law from us as a society to protect these people,” Rodney said during an interview on Observer AM.
He added that sharing this kind of information can affect the judicial process and could even see the case being thrown out if the accused is not dealt a fair process.
This is why, he said, more awareness is needed as this has become a recurring matter.
“If you have that level of information you would know how to act and to act responsibly in terms of matters like that. You can have a negative affect on the process.
“If someone is charged with a criminal sexual offence, obviously it is the goal to bring it before the court and to a conclusion where that person is convicted; members of the public should not be doing anything to hamper that process.
“The person that is being accused is entitled to a fair trial and no one should interfere with that. Sometimes when we think we are doing harm to the person — because sometimes we do have our own emotions about them and you might be trying to expose them for what they did — but at the same time you are depriving the judicial system from having a final say in the matter,” the commissioner of police explained.
He sought to advise the public that these actions can result in jail time and heavy fines as stipulated by the Sexual Offences Act of Antigua and Barbuda, No. 9 of 1995, which makes it unlawful for anyone to publish or broadcast the identity of an accused person, or complainants in a sexual offence case.
Therefore, anyone who contravenes this Act, by publishing or broadcasting any matter contrary to subsection (1) would be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine of $25,000 and to imprisonment for two years; and upon conviction on indictment to a fine of $25,000 and to imprisonment for five years.
Rodney also spoke on the matter of the public disseminating images of individuals in vehicular accidents on social media.
He is advising the public to cease and desist from this practice as they can also be charged. He explained that the negative effect that the gruesome images could have on family members and friends could also be life threatening.