Over five months ago a Progressive Labour Party motion was passed in the House of Assembly which said: “Whereas it is acknowledged that the public are becoming increasingly aware of incidents relating to sexual offenders, and these incidents are alarming and create widespread concern as to how we manage the information relating to sexual offenders and how we protect our communities simultaneously; Be it resolved that this Honourable House establish a Joint Select Committee to examine, review and make recommendations, and report to this House its findings on existing legislation which addresses the necessity for a public sex offenders’ register along with other pertinent matters relating to convicted sex offenders.”
The Standing (still) committee created simply replaced another Standing (still) Committee relating to child sexual predators that had been formed in 2015. The problem is that little seems to have happened.
The fact is child sex abuse only appears to be discussed when there is a heinous headline or when a predator is released. The community then debates at length as to whether penalties are sufficient, whether those accused should be named and whether it is appropriate to release the name and address of the convicted upon release from prison. The debate then goes quiet — until the next time.
This is the same with most things in Bermuda which are remotely controversial. So today I am addressing this difficult issue, which according to the Harvard Medical School “remains a vexing challenge for clinicians and public officials” because Bermuda’s second Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Sex Offenders has failed to make recommendations on how to deal with the issue of paedophiles in Bermuda.
Most people believe that child sex offenders are unknown to their victims, but studies have shown that 39 per cent of child sex offenders are family members, 56 per cent of offenders are acquaintances of the child or family (such as friends of the family, a babysitter, neighbours) and only 5 per cent of offenders are strangers.
In Bermuda in 2011 there were 136 child sex abuse cases. In 2012 there were 106 cases. In 2013 there were 126 cases and in 2014 there were 173 cases (see Scars Bermuda website).
The numbers are shocking, but it gets worse. In the US, research has shown that 88 per cent of child sexual abuse is never reported (Harvard Medical). One can only then imagine how the numbers extrapolate in Bermuda.
Putting the confusion of the statistics aside, there are different levels and types of child sex abuse. The most heinous is paedophilia. Paedophiles are those who have a sexual attraction to children who have not yet reached puberty. Research undertaken by the UK National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) in 2012 found that 49 per cent of all registered sex offenders were paedophiles.
It is relatively common ground among experts that paedophilia is a distinct sexual orientation, which essentially means that there is no way to “cure” a paedophile and no absolutely definitive way of preventing a convicted paedophile from ever completely stopping their predatory ways or desires.
Studies of paedophiles previously convicted of paedophilic offences found recidivism rates of up to 50 per cent (Psychology Today).
There are a number of ways of minimising reoffending of paedophiles that we must consider in Bermuda. There is no single magic bullet. Naming and shaming and showing the face of a convicted paedophile is a step in the right direction. It will bring awareness to the neighbourhood in which a convicted paedophile is living.
This may assist in ensuring children and parents are aware of the danger the offender poses to a child, but it won’t stop the predator from acting out his fantasies and desires.
To prevent a paedophile offending he must first want to be treated. Countless studies have shown that without the recognition of the problem, the paedophile will act on his fantasies. Without the desire to be treated it is highly unlikely the paedophile will be prevented from being evil.
Once there is the recognition of the problem then medication can be used to suppress urges, along with cognitive therapy and empathy training. In other words, one-on-one psychological assessments and treatments (which is very costly).
Some drugs go further and essentially block the production of sex hormones — otherwise known as chemical castration.
This type of treatment is mandatory in a number of US and Australian states, Poland, Macedonia, South Korea, Estonia, Moldova and Russia as part of the condition of release from prison. Offenders from Israel can voluntarily submit to chemical castration in exchange for release.
India and the UK are considering something similar to this. There are of course a number of jurisdictions that do not believe in treatment of paedophiles. Instead convicted paedophiles in places like Iran and China may simply be executed.
California however has a unique way of dealing with paedophiles and other serious sex offenders.
They are kept indefinitely after their formal release from prison at a specially constructed secure facility.
They cannot be released from this pseudo-prison until they are chemically castrated and then cleared by a state psychiatric panel as safe and have secured housing in a suitable location — i.e. away from schools and other places where children congregate.
In other words such offenders are essentially kept for life away from the general population since even if cleared as “safe” they rarely find housing that is suitable or a job.
Obviously the way in which the problem is dealt with internationally must prompt a discussion on human rights. However those rights need to be considered against the rights of the victims.
In Bermuda we have a long way to go. We don’t have the facilities or budget like California to provide around-the-clock supervision or long-term psychological evaluation to paedophiles upon release.
And I am told there is no mandatory requirement in Bermuda for a convicted paedophile to attend any sex offending courses before being released at the conclusion of their sentence.
We are often afraid individually of calling out wrongdoing in Bermuda, more so than other jurisdictions. I suspect this is so because we are essentially afraid of offending thy neighbour.
The convicted child sex offender may be related to you, or be your best friend, so the attitude seems to be one of stay quiet and hope that the problem will just go away. We need to stop this. The Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Sex Offenders must consider an open debate in dealing with paedophiles which could include the following:
1. Warning the community about the release of a paedophile from prison — name, shame and release photos and keep permanently on the BPS website.
2. Ensuring the paedophile does not have a home near a school or other place that children congregate.
3. Requiring that all paedophiles receive mandatory regular cognitive therapies and empathy training in prison and upon release.
4. Requiring medication to suppress urges. No co-operation — no release.
5. Mandating chemical castration for life as a condition of release — with regular probationary checks to ensure medication is being taken.
6. Attaching ankle tracking units to all paedophiles upon release — permanently.
7. Life sentence for reoffending.
There is no “cure” for paedophilia. However simply ignoring the problem is not enough and naming and shaming falls short.
Moreover we cannot ignore the fact that there is a woeful lack of support for victims and their families, despite the sterling work of charitable organisations like Scars. The more the matter is discussed openly the more the issue can be dealt with in its entirety.
The above is intended to start a discussion. The Standing (still) Committee must report and Parliament must act. Before the next time.
Michael M. Fahy is a former Minister of Home Affairs, Minister of Tourism, Transport and Municipalities and Junior Minister of Tourism under the One Bermuda Alliance Government