Sexual assault gets talked about

Ten political candidates tackled the issue of sexual abuse on Saturday and mostly left politics aside as they condemned sex offences and offered ways of dealing with the problem.

The eight men and two women took part in a ‘breakfast with the candidates’ organised by the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre and the Estella Scott Roberts Foundation.

Suggested strategies included higher prison sentences as well as prevention through education of both boys and girls.

The candidates were given five minutes to present their views, after which they had the chance to respond to questions from the audience.

Bodden Town candidate Sandra Catron said Cayman had done a good job in economic development but not in addressing social ills.

‘I am advocating a multi-disciplinary approach with strong legislation to move the moral compass that seems to be static,’ she said, adding that there needs to be a shift in cultural attitudes. Specifically, she said Cayman needs a family court and sex offender register, she recommended.

George Town candidate Frank McField agreed.

‘Without an overall comprehensive attack on these particular negative issues, we’ll always be at a disadvantage.’

As former Minister for Community Development, he had made the Crisis Centre separate from government to get community support, but now he thought the question of government involvement could be revisited.

Another George Town candidate, Walling Whittaker, noted that the Young Business and Professional Women’s Club had undertaken a survey in which over 40 per cent of respondents said they had been stalked. The report was given to government, but nothing was done.

He said perpetrators had to be held responsible for their actions. Victims should have support and be accompanied to court. Violence to children is a threat to social and economic development, he concluded.

George Town incumbent Alfonso Wright pointed out that steps have been made, such as the recent passing of the Children’s Law, which mandates reporting of suspected child abuse.

For too long, parents have not talked with their children about sexual activities, he said. Because the parents did not want to discuss this, children have been put at a disadvantage and when an unscrupulous adult approaches them, they don’t know how to deal with the situation.

West Bay candidate Bernie Bush said girls are often held to a standard of behaviour that is different for boys. A parent applauds the son for carrying condoms, but ‘goes through the roof’ if the daughter is on the pill. Through his work with youth groups, he said he had been told that when big men approach young girls and the girls say how old they are, it doesn’t stop the men.

Mr. Bush called for more help for victims and legislation to increase sentences if the courts cannot do it. Parents also need to be educated about discipline, he urged

Pearlina McGaw-Lumsden, another candidate in George Town, agreed with developing a comprehensive programme of education and endorsed stricter sentencing. She pointed out that not only do victims of sexual assault need counselling, but so do their families. She said she had come to understand that Cayman is facing an epidemic of child abuse and it is now necessary to have a child psychologist on island.

George Town candidate Ellio Solomon said the family unit is the most important structure in society. He said he had grown up in area where he saw drugs, violence and abuse, but what helped him avoid those problems was his family.

He suggested a re-focus by renaming the Women’s Resource Centre the Family Resource Centre.

Burn Conolly, also running for George Town, said the historical and cultural situations that had led to a lack of equality between men and women had also shaped attitudes and behaviours. He pledged to support legislation that would deal not only with issues like sexual assault, spousal and child abuse, but also equality for women.

He said people have to stop covering up incidents and that men in prominent positions have to be role models.

Bodden Town candidate Gilbert McLean said part of the problem was people tended to feel ashamed and cover up matters rather than bring them out into the open. He pointed to the impact of television, especially music featuring sexual gyrations and lyrics cursing girls. He said it is easier for government to put legislation forward when organisations make specific recommendations.

‘I was almost a victim of sexual abuse,’ Eddie Thompson, a candidate for George Town, revealed. He said this was when he was involved in sports as a youngster.

‘Fortunately, the coach was removed from the island,’ he said. ‘Unfortunately for others he did get to, it was done in the cloak of darkness.’

He called it ironic that Cayman has so many churches, but so few programmes to deal with social issues. He called for mandatory early childhood training for young parents.

Answering a question posed by moderator Richard Simms, Mr. Wright said there should be discretion in sentencing for cases of defilement when both parties are teenagers, since some behaviour is the result of experimenting.

Mr. Conolly agreed, noting that the age of consent is 16 for girls, a number generated by society. He wondered what should happen if the involvement is between a girl of 17 and a boy of 15. He said education was needed so teenagers understand the implications of what they are doing. Adult offenders should get the maximum.