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Friday 23 March 2018

Make Sex Offender Registry public

WE SUPPORT the initiative taken by the State to establish a Sex Offender Registry. Such a move is long overdue, especially given the alarming prevalence of child abuse in the country.

Speaking in the House of Representatives on Friday, Minister of National Security Edmund Dillon confirmed the long-awaited registry was established on December 22, 2015.

“This electronic registry is intended to maintain a report of the particulars of sex offenders who have been mandated by the court to give notification,” the minister said.

“This information will be maintained in a Station Sex Offender Register to be accessed by authorised officers and investigators in the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service only.” Dillon said training and staffing matters are still being worked out and a full implementation across all nine police divisions is due by June.

However, when asked if the registry would one day be accessible to the public, the minister said, “I believe it is designed for police information only and not for the public.” We are pleased the State is at long last implementing the law. For example, several court cases featuring sex offenders have seen judges issuing orders calling for perpetrators to be placed on a registry, yet, for years, such a registry was in limbo, notwithstanding the judicial pronouncements which suggested such a registry was not just a matter of policy but also of law.

Once the State has ironed out the kinks, it must widen access to the registry so that it can serve as an effective means of protection. While there may be concerns about privacy, double jeopardy and the risk of acts of vigilante justice, the registry must be accessible to the members of the public whose own interests are to be balanced against the rights of offenders.

Sex offender registries are common in countries like the US and the UK. In the US, the National Sex Offender Public Website — coordinated by the Department of Justice — enables every citizen to search for the identity and location of known sex offenders. In some states, offenders are also subject to lifetime electronic monitoring.

In the UK, however, the Violent and Sex Offender Register is only available to the law enforcement authorities.

Still, offenders are subject to even deeper reporting requirements.

They must give the police details of their bank accounts, credit cards, passports and any foreign travel. They are also required to notify the police weekly if they are not registered as regularly residing or staying at one place. Additionally, they have to notify the police where they are living in a household with a child under the age of 18. While members of the public may not have automatic access, private companies are allowed to access the database. The number of reports to the Children’s Authority on child abuse alone shows us why the database should have a broad ambit. According to the authority, between May 18, 2015, and September 30, 2015, there were 2,019 cases that involved children who were in need of care and protection and that required investigation.

Further, reports of heinous acts of sexual abuse on the underaged are made daily at police stations across the country, with the latest to make the news involving a seven-year old Moruga girl. These figures and reports are, however, only the tip of the iceberg. The nature of these crimes means they remain largely unreported.

While a publicly available registry can protect communities by giving them notice of convicted felons, another recent case involving a step-father raping a step-daughter demonstrates that ultimately parents must remain vigilant when it comes to who they let into the house. They could well find that, when it comes to their child’s interests, they may be sleeping with the enemy.


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