INDEPENDENT Senator Sophia Chote opposed Government proposals to stamp the passport of sex offenders, and to let the general public view a list of sex offenders, speaking yesterday in the Senate on the Sex Offences (Amendment) Bill Register.
A passport stamp could curb their lives to the point of breaching their rights, while a public viewing could expose them to public attacks, she explained.
Stamping a passport could affect a person using the document to do everyday acts such as buying at the duty-free shop at an airport, she said, while a man who had served his time could be affected when travelling with his new family or going to visit a dying parent. “This stamping of passports will block you from seeking employment anywhere in the world. You are affecting liberty.” Chote said the police have warned of an unsettling new trend in custody cases of children being coached to lie.
“I’ve seen it happen myself. I’ve heard colleagues of it. It is more common than we’d like to think.”
Chote warned against publicising sex-offenders names in a registry.
“Why must it be made available to the public? Making it available to the public is simply going to stigmatise the convicted person.”
The police already have details of sex offenders such as their DNA, she said.
“If the TT Police Service have a list of sexual offenders then certainly that is going to help them identify who may have perpetrated a particular crime and bring that person to justice. To me that is more in the public interest than putting something up on the web.”
Chote warned that a 2007 study in Florida had found that the publicising of sex offenders names had been followed by half the offenders then becoming victims of vigilante attacks, being assaulted, suffering property-damage and/or being run of out-of-town.
“Vigilantes have no compunction about going to administer their own brand of justice. That’s not something we want in this society.
“As a practitioner I know there are all kinds of offence and all kinds of offenders,” she advised. Chote warned against corralling all sex-offenders into one grouping.
She was opposed to the bill’s intention to register sex-offenders retroactively to 2000, saying someone may have done a crime at 18 years old but now be settled at 38 or 39 years old. “I think the starting point should be from the time of passage of the legislation.” She admitted her suggestions would not win her public popularity but was unfazed.
Chote lamented a lack of details on recidivism rates among existing offenders.
“That would have been a valuable statistic for us, because what we are being asked to do in this house is balance fundamental constitutional rights with public interest concerns.” Despite everyone’s passion to protect children, she cautioned, “But when it comes to legislating, we must do so with cool heads.”
While the bill also lets a rape victim (or if she died then her dependant) sue her assailant if she was infected with a sexually transmitted infection, Chote urged this provision be extended for LGBT couples. Independent Senator Anthony Vieira applauded.
Opposition Senator Khadijah Ameen urged that 29 stakeholder groups are ready with their suggestions to make an input into the bill.
“I’m in support of the call for a joint select committee to be established. We have had committees able to gather the information in two meetings and put together a report.”