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Sunday 26 May 2019
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Senator: Public sex-offenders list could be harmful

Senator Anthony Vieira
Senator Anthony Vieira

THE publicising of a registry of sex offenders could actually impede the rehabilitation of convicted people, warned Independent Senator Anthony Vieira. The police already have such a list but the Sex Offenders (Amendment) Bill 2019, debated in the Senate on Tuesday, proposes it be posted online for public viewing. Vieira said sex abuse can create a lifetime of pain for victims.

He applauded the provision that allows a sex victim to sue their assailant for compensation and hoped it could also be applied to other crimes.

“My concerns centre on the registry and whether it will do much in terms of preventing sex crimes, whether the registry will ostracise sex offenders, turning them into social lepers and putting them at risk.” He wondered whether the bill will have any impact on crimes such as incest and crimes by other people in close contact with the victim such as teachers and sports coaches, plus paedophiles on the internet.

Vieira considered how the bill could affect the fundamental human rights of offenders.

“I’m concerned the national sex offender registry may give rise to a false sense of security without providing real solutions.” He said the registry and policy behind it were fundamentally flawed.

“They do nothing to support prevention. They are not a deterrent. They do little or nothing for people who have survived sex abuse.

“They put offenders at risk from technical violations – failing to report, failing to inform a change of address. They will be continually offending and staying within the criminal legal system and I don’t know if that’s a good thing.” He said the registry costs to carry out monitoring.

“As Senator Haynes pointed out, in countries where there are sex registers there has been no demonstrable effect they have reduced sex re-offences.

“Instead there are reported instances of harassment, ostracism and even violence against former offenders. And remember, these are persons who have finished their sentences. What they really need is a place to live, to participate in family life, and to get meaningful employment.”

Vieira recalled that as a criminal lawyer he often used to get calls from ex-inmates just released from jail saying no-one would hire them and asking him for help to get a job, but even his efforts failed to get them small jobs.

“Nobody would touch them. Nobody would touch them.

“So if you find yourself on a sex registry, well you are anathema. You are just not going to get anywhere to live, anywhere to work, and what is the effect of that? It may very well drive you underground, alienate you further and lead you back to a life of crime, which is not really what is the intended purpose of this (bill).”

Urging rehabilitation, Vieira said studies show that sex offenders, once caught, have one of the lowest rates of recidivism of any class of criminals.

“Treatment can be effective for those who commit sex crimes.”

He warned that onerous measures could push offenders underground, when what they really need is family support, treatment, supervision.

Rehabilitation should be the bill’s focus, not continuing his punishment, Vieira added.

“Having your name on the registry is akin to being a modern leper and an outcast. So I think this legislation may actually impede offender rehabilitation.”

Studies show one per cent of men are paedophiles attracted to pre-pubescent youngsters, said Vieira. He said the bill fails to address child pornography.

He shed light on how hard it is to tackle incest, from lessons learnt as a lawyer.

“Incest doesn’t happen just so. Usually it has been going on for generations. It is cyclical."

Family members fear shame and a loss of earnings from exposing the offender who is often their main breadwinner.

“The victims and their family members don’t want to testify against loved ones. They don’t want their brother, grandfather, stepfather or father to go to jail. And if they go to jail, how do they live?

The Senate adjourned until next Tuesday for continuation of the debate.

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