Strengthen child abuse laws

I read recently several incidents of child sexual abuse in your newspaper and wish to express my opinions on the matter.

The first story ran in the Compass on 17 April and was titled Stepfather is jailed for cruelty.

The other equally disturbing story illustrated the vulnerability of all children where a 28-year-old employee sexually exploited a 13-year-old child on at least six separate occasions.

I recall that when I saw the first headline (Stepfather is jailed for cruelty) my inclination was not that it would be one of sexual molestation but something less horrific.

However, as I began reading the very first paragraph it became painstakingly obvious what the article was about. I must say that I was so saddened to read the details that involved a five-year-old child being subjected to improper sexual contact by someone who should be protecting her from such behaviour.

As I continued to read the article my initial disgust soon turned into complete outrage as I read the comments of the judge and saw the final outcome of the case.

The first point that was interesting is that the judge did not allow the child to be sworn in as a witness and as a result indicated to the jury that had there not been any corroborating evidence her testimony alone would not suffice.

I am not aware of the legal implications of not allowing a child to be sworn in but if the net effect is that it potentially weakens the Crown’s case then that is disconcerting to say the least. I was thankful that at least in this case, despite the defendant’s attempt to obliterate the victim’s story there was physical evidence to return a guilty verdict.

For many years now the field of child witness interrogation has become somewhat of a specialty in many jurisdictions where children are often the victims of child abuse.

Defence attorneys, prosecutors as well as the police force are specially trained in how to deal with the child witness in these specific circumstances. This special handling ensures that the information is accurately obtained and as little damage is done to the victim as possible.

I must applaud the court for employing the use of video interviewing technology to at least spare the child the trauma of being in the courthouse with the accused.

I was most appalled at the sentence of 12 months that this individual received. I cannot imagine that this defendant whom I would label a paedophile has not offended before and would not offend again. This is one issue that all members of our community need to clearly understand – there is no effective treatment or cure for paedophiles and they will re-offend again if given the opportunity to do so. That is a very sad fact.

It is also a fact that there are a myriad of issues that stem from sexual abuse that the victim will have to deal with for the rest of their lives.

Children’s interpretation of the abuse, whether or not they disclose the experience, and how quickly they report it also affects the short- and long-term consequences. Children who are able to confide in a trusted adult and who are believed experience fewer traumas than children who do not disclose the abuse.

We need to focus on prevention first and foremost and then on punishment.

As parents, the primary role of prevention will often be their responsibility. I would urge all parents to exercise extreme caution with who they decide to trust their most precious commodity with – their children.

I do realize that sometimes it is difficult to know who to really trust; but being over cautious is this regard would be the best thing to do. In the US there are many people who are now resorting to the installation on nanny cams and other video surveillance techniques in their home.

I would also suggest considering those as possible tools to assist in deterring such behaviour.

Communicate with your children to let them know what is appropriate behaviour/touching and what is not. Also, communication with people in your life who may have contact with your child is also a good idea.

I would also urge the members of the our Legislative Assembly to institute a child molester database on all three islands and stop allowing these monsters to walk so freely amongst our children.

A very strong stance has to be taken to protect our children from these individuals who often seek out situations where they can be left alone with their victims. The very charge of cruelty in this case seems to diminish what truly occurred – sexual abuse!

There are many instances in Cayman of child exploitation including adult men engaging in inappropriate relations with teenage girls, which can often be witnessed after school when they are being picked up by these individuals.

The law has to take a firmer stance on these issues and prosecute each and every case to the fullest extent legally allowable.

Finally, I would like to applaud the parent who believed her child and took immediate action. We can see that without her urgently contacting the police critical forensic evidence could have been lost.

It then becomes imperative that every member of this community who is outraged about these types of offences speak out publicly and let the offenders know that this type of behaviour will not be tolerated. We also need to speak to our political leaders and implore them to strengthen the existing sentencing even further and perhaps consider some mandatory measures that remove the wayward discretionary powers from our judges.

Sandra Catron

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