In 2012, a young girl stepped forward with the most serious of allegations – that she had been the victim of sustained sexual abuse, perpetrated by two older male relatives. She told her story to school authorities. Then she told the police.
And then, she waited for someone to do something about it … and waited … and waited … and waited.
Nearly four years later, the case has finally made its way to Cayman Islands Grand Court, where an “astonished” Justice Timothy Owen condemned “inexcusable delays” by police in investigating the allegations.
“I cannot understand how a case as serious as this could not be treated very seriously and given the resources and energy to make a charging decision and bring it to trial. I just don’t know why that happened,” he said.
Neither do we, Justice Owen.
“We can be sure if this case had been investigated promptly and brought to trial promptly, the quality of the material evidence and the ability of the court to decide on where the truth lies would have been better,” the judge said. “That seems to be obvious. Delay is [the] enemy of justice.”
At this juncture, we’ll note that no verdict has yet been rendered, and no one has been found guilty of any crime. When Justice Owen says delay is the enemy of justice, that is true for both the accuser and the accused, and more broadly for society.
It is in the interests of each individual, and the collective, for justice to be delivered fairly, impartially – and swiftly.
The importance of that last point is heightened according to the vulnerability of the alleged victim, for example, a child who has levied serious accusations against older family members.
According to the results of a 2015 survey by the Pan American Health Organization (of 15- to 19-year-olds), one in five girls in Cayman reported they had been sexually abused, and one in six children said they had been physically assaulted by an adult.
Dr. Taylor Burrowes, a counselor who has run a sexual trauma recovery program in Cayman for more than seven years, told a Cayman Compass reporter, “The program has seen 70 referrals of sexually abused youth and few of them have had positive outcomes from criminal proceedings.”
Generally speaking, the delays, shortcomings and outright failures in the prosecutions of alleged sexual offenders in Cayman are apparent. If we could, we’d say “well documented,” but, inexplicably, our country’s Department of Public Prosecutions does not keep statistics on conviction rates for sexual abuse or any other offense.
In the face of this damning (albeit somewhat anecdotal) preponderance of evidence, our government has rushed in – not with a plan – but with an announcement: “A Child Safeguarding Board has been established in the Cayman Islands.”
According to the government’s statement, the “multidisciplinary Board,” composed of a dozen agencies plus appointed citizens, “is based on a best practice model” and “will function primarily as a scrutiny and decision making body.”
While such an entity may in theory be desirable from a policy standpoint, please pardon our lack of enthusiasm. (The fact that this board was actually established back in May should serve as a hint toward its future effectiveness.)
“Establishing a board” … “Appointing a committee” … “Conducting a review” … “Commissioning a study” … “Pursuing a business case” … “Formulating a response” … “Tendering a proposal” … “Drafting a report” … “Forming a working group” … “Considering audit recommendations” … etc., etc., ….
The regularity and aplomb with which our government issues those statements are astounding, considering how they defy the laws of reason and physics: They have considerable volume, but no weight. Stacked high into the air, one on top of the other, those utterances will not move the needle on any scale, or any issue. They are, in a word, vacuous.
When it comes to child abuse, the only committee that truly matters, in the context of criminal justice, is extremely limited in composition. It comprises the accuser, the accused, the police, attorneys and the courts.
Anything else is at best supplementary, and at worst, deleterious.