THERE ARE about three reports of crime against children per day, according to fresh statistics given by police officers working for the Child Protection Unit. Those figures demand an urgent review of the mechanisms in place to deter and prosecute these crimes as well as to provide support for victims and others affected.
According to Sgt Michelle Lewis of the Child Protection Unit, there has been an overall increase of 59 per cent when it comes to reports of crimes against minors. However, in some categories the increase is substantially higher. For instance, reports of sexual touching – which in some circumstances can be committed by children against children – have increased by 79 per cent to 217. And these figures are just the tip of the iceberg given the tendency for offences of this nature to go under-reported.
However, it should be born in mind that the increase in reports may be due to more people coming forward. That, in its own way, is a good thing. Still, whether the spike represents a recalibration of our appreciation of a problem or an actual rise, the State cannot afford to be complacent. A concerted effort must be made to prevent and deter these crimes.
A first step involves active prosecution of cases that are appropriate for such action. Court proceedings send a clear signal. At the same time, there is something to be said about prevention. While the nature of these crimes, which tend to be committed by close relatives of the victims, is such that it may be difficult to pre-emptively intervene, greater efforts should be made to encourage vigilance on the part of communities.
It starts with educating children about their sexual health so that they are better able to pick up red flags. This means being open and transparent about sexual health, not sweeping it under the carpet.
Repeat offenders are also likely to play a part in the statistical recurrence of certain offences and a sexual offenders register would be a useful tool to assist in forewarning communities. Currently, such registers, which are mandated by law, are available only to law enforcement personnel. There needs to be discussion over whether this should be changed.
Do state prosecutors have enough resources to pursue these cases? With their statistical prevalence increasing, there will be an increased burden on the court system. Though the figures paint a disturbing picture, they do however disclose that about one-third of reports have resulted in matters before the courts, a relatively high detection rate. It’s important for that rate to be maintained and improved.
Through all of this, we must also remember the profound ill-effects on victims. Proper support needs to be provided. Too often it is forgotten that the extent of this problem is intergenerational. It goes well beyond the figures disclosed this week.