A coalition of survivors of sexual violence, service providers and advocates is offering its combined experience to Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi to improve the sexual offences legislation currently being debated in the Senate.
Spokesman for the coalition Colin Robinson of CAISO said there were too many grey areas in the proposed Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill and called for more stringent guidelines. The group is advocating for a parliamentary select committee (PSC) to allow survivors and their families, among other experts, to contribute to the bill before the debate continued.
The group does not believe all offenders for all offences should be placed on the register and suggests that be done at a judge’s discretion for a period which must be specified.
The coalition includes, CAISO, Caribbean Center for Human Rights, CEDAW Committee of T&T, Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Institute for Gender & Development Studies, the Network of NGOs for the Advancement of Women, Organisation for Abused & Battered Individuals, Rape Crisis Society and Womantra.
Robinson, head of CAISO Sex and Gender Justice TT, said the coalition had communicated with the AG, who was not fully sold on the proposals. He said the groups would now take a more formal approach to ensure that people who had the experience and expertise related to the issue got a chance to make an input, not just to the AG, but to the entire Parliament.
“There are lots of important voices in civil society which need to be heard. That has not been done.” He said the contribution of survivors and their families, experts in criminology and restorative justice, mental health and social work, sexuality and gender, service providers and those who work with children ought to be heard.
The first amendment suggested by the coalition called for mandatory rehabilitation and for the sex-offender register to be used “as a channel for psycho-educational interventions for perpetrators both during and after incarceration and for restorative justice approaches.” Pointing out that parents, teachers and counsellors who failed to report an offence could be taken to court and end up on the register, Robinson called for a delimitation of possible offences. The group wants a focused approach to which offences are registrable, such as those involving sexual violence (including against children and vulnerable people), child pornography, and trafficking.
Robinson explained, “The AG’s proposal is a blanket approach for every sex offender for every offence, including the mother and the teacher who knew the child was having sex and did not go to the police.
But the coalition feels: “Not everybody ought to be in the register. We want discretion. We want judges to decide who goes in the register. We want people to get assessed before they are released, to go before the judge to determine if that person is rehabilitated and whether he/she should go in the register and for how long.”
The coalition has also recommended automatic removal from the register and that access to it should be limited on a need-to-know basis. Robinson said the coalition is not unanimous in the last recommendation but advanced that public access to the register could cause more harm than good.