TRADE Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon said a public sex offenders registry is important because people need to know who is caring for their children.
She was contributing to debate on the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill in the Senate on Tuesday.
She recalled the story of Mano Benjamin “The Beast of Biche” who was convicted and served 20 years for kidnapping, raping, torturing and abusing two sisters in the 1960s. Gopee-Scoon said after Benjamin was released everyone knew where he lived in Point Fortin and schoolchildren would run and scamper away when they saw him. She stressed it was important for communities to know of the existence of sex offenders for protection. She pointed out that on the Independent and Opposition benches, concerns had been raised about an offender on a public list being stigmatised by people, with those senators pointing out that police officers had the list and they were the ones who needed to identify perpetrators, and that offenders could become victims of possible vigilante justice.
In response to those concerns, Gopee-Scoon said, “All of your concerns are understood and it is our Constitution and so we understand the seriousness of it. But on the other hand there is, as well, certainly the right to protection.”
She said the registry could be used for vetting people and added, with the nature of the jobs of parliamentarians, they relied on help for their children including helpers, drivers, handymen around homes and babysitters.
“And, therefore, it is very important to be able to know in whose care you are leaving your children.”
She said citizens had a right to know if an offenders was in their neighbourhood and innocent children had a right to safety.
She shared the story of a woman she knew who was raped multiple times from the age of eight to illustrate her point that only when sexual abuse “hit home” would people support a public sex offenders registry. She said the rape was done under a cloud of secrecy by a relative in the home. Gopee-Scoon said the woman had gone on to become a successful professional but the abuse still affected her ability to love and accept a man as a partner.
“The body lives on after the offences but the soul dies.”
Opposition Senator Saddam Hosein in his contribution questioned whether the police was ready for the bill.
He also said it was “totally unacceptable” for sexual offences cases to take more than ten years. He said the victim would have to relive the trauma every time they returned to the courtroom.
Hosein called for specialised courts to deal with sexual offences just as a Children’s Court was set up. Hosein also called for a joint select committee for the bill and to allow for the group of NGOs which requested consultation on the bill to be heard.