Looking at the law

Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale explained some key pieces of legislation concerning sexual assault.

The sentence for incest if the girl is under 13 years old is life imprisonment. This had been amended in 2001 from a five-year sentence, regardless of age, under the 1998 penal code. If the girl is 16 and younger, the sentence is now 20 years.

The changes were made after a 1999 trial in which a man who had sex with his daughter, who was under the age of 12, only received an 11-year sentence on a charge of defilement (he also was given a concurrent sentence of 4¾ years on the charge of incest).

The public outcry after that trial led to a fairly quick change, in 2001, to two sections of the law dealing with sentencing based on the age of the daughter. The reform of the entire relevant law did not take effect until 2004.

Under the law, anyone who has sex with a girl under 12-years-old can be charged with defilement, if the child consents, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. If the girl is between the ages of 12 and 16, the sentence is 12 years.

Ms Ramsay-Hale added that there are many cases where men are charged with defilement of a girl under 12 instead of rape because the victim consented.

The magistrate questions whether a 12-year-old can give informed consent to an act she does not fully understand or appreciate and added that consent is among equals; the offenders are usually adult males. In countries such as the US, the corresponding charge would be statutory rape.

Ms Ramsay-Hale strongly believes that the punishment is too lenient.

‘If a man has sex with a girl under 12, the sentence should be life imprisonment,’ she said.

Another significant amendment to the penal code, according to the magistrate, was the change in the definition of rape. As of 2004, the charge of rape not only applies to a man raping a woman, but also includes a man committing this offence on another man.

Ms Ramsay-Hale also would like to see the penal code in Cayman amended to create a gender-neutral law of sexual assault.

Other issues need to be addressed as well, she said. For example, there is no mandatory reporting of child abuse or child sexual abuse in Cayman.

In addition, while anonymity of sexual assault victims is protected here, Cayman is such a small community that some may be deterred from testifying for fear that everyone will find out their identity.

The magistrate would also like to see more help available to those affected by sexual assault.

‘Victims and their families need support,’ she said.