Opinion

Speaking up for justice

  • Debi Ray-Rivers

Justice was served! Our hearts go out to this precious child who was so courageous and spoke her truth in a court environment that could be classified as intimidating, scary and which I feel is inhumane.

I applaud her family and advocates, who not only reacted responsibly to this disclosure by reporting it, but also supported, affirmed and empowered the victim to find her voice and speak her truth.

Justice was done in this case and the Department of Public Prosecutions and its witness-protection team deserve all the credit for ensuring that this case was handled in a fair and victim-sensitive manner.

It is reassuring to know that the judge and jury upheld the law and ruled overwhelming in favour of child protection by meting out a conviction.

Although there is still much to do to improve the court system when dealing with child sexual abuse, marginal progress has been made. I look forward to the day when a child-friendly framework and processes are in place when child sexual abuse cases come before the courts.

We must always keep in the forefront of our minds that little children are meant to be loved and protected by adults, not be used by others for sexual gratification. The average adult doesnít just wake up one day and decide they are suddenly aroused by a childís body.

We, as a community, must be outraged and deeply concerned every time we hear that the innocence of our precious children is being stolen in this country. Child sexual abuse can be prevented and education and zero tolerance are essential.

I understand we have a very limited number of courtrooms available for criminal, matrimonial and appeal cases. Thatís unacceptable.

Cases are delayed, which subsequently causes delays in children receiving counselling for the trauma they have endured.

Itís my understanding that alleged child abuse victims are not offered counselling before or during trials of child sexual abuse cases, for fear of tainting the evidence. What does that mean? It means that children cannot receive healing for their pain, caused by someone else, because we donít have adequate courtrooms available for these cases to be heard in a timely manner. Ridiculous and inexcusable.

The leadership of our island must pool their resources with a sense of urgency to rectify this shortfall to avoid irreparable damage from continuing to the hearts and minds of child sexual abuse victims. The sooner they get help, the quicker they will be put on a path to, hopefully, recovery.

Convicted sex offenders are always a risk to our children and, as a result, should never be entitled to bail. In fact, bail is a reward.

Giving William Franklyn Smith temporary freedom before he suffers the consequence of his crime against a young child is a reward and this should never happen. He has been found guilty in a court of law of committing a sexual crime against a child.

If he is free, he could continue to be a risk to our children. Why would we, as a community, take that risk?

With that said, I canít help but wonder about this young perpetratorís childhood story.

One might want to ask themselves: did he receive unconditional love and support by the two people who brought him into this world?

Did he experience childhood pain?

Has he experienced abandonment or rejection? Did anyone love him unconditionally?

I pray Westgate can get to the root of this young manís trauma before he is released and provide him with the tools and strategies to navigate his pain and respond appropriately in the future ó to help to heal his trauma so that the cycle doesnít continue.

Letís not forget that a high percentage of those who abuse were rejected and/or abandoned by a parent who brought them into this world or were abused either sexually, physically or emotionally themselves.

They have an emotional scar and, sadly, they then cause an emotional scar. We must also keep in mind that not everyone who was sexually abused as a child will go on to abuse. They are, however, left with a scar, but that emotional scar may look very different.

This case was classic grooming, and innocent children have no idea what grooming is or how manipulative people can be.

What do children know about manipulation and deviance? Nothing!

We, the adults in this country, must do all we can to protect them. We encourage every adult to get educated and become certified in the free three-hour prevention training course offered by Saving Children and Revealing Secrets.

ē Debi Ray-Rivers is the founder and executive director of the charity Saving Children and Revealing Secrets. Visit scarsbermuda.com/get-educated/training/ for more information