By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE country’s leading counselling and advocacy services provider for abuse victims does not want a sex offender register to be made public.
Dr Sandra Dean-Patterson, director of the Bahamas Crisis Centre, said a public register would be ineffective and would lure people into a false sense of security.
Her comments when contacted yesterday came after the government published draft regulations for a sex offender registry earlier this month on its website.
Many likely assume the sex offender register will be public, but neither the regulations nor the substantive law expressly state that the register would be accessible to the public. The law instead empowers the minister of national security to notify the public about the release of certain convicts after consulting the commissioner of corrections and the commissioner of police about the risk they pose.
Dr Dean-Patterson said: “What happens is public registers really gives people a false sense of security because you think if you’re a sexual offender and you come out of prison you go on the register and then people will get to know where you are and whether you’re likely to be a danger. I always thought the registry needs to be non-public. If we’re going to have a sex offender registry given the size of our country, you talk about them not living near a school, not being near parks, where in Nassau could you not live near a school? I don’t think it’s realistic and it could enhance vigilantism because this is a subject people are so angry about.”
She continued: “First you want to look at what is the purpose of a sexual offenders register. If it is to manage sex offenders so they don’t reoffend, research is showing that it really doesn’t make much difference. I think researchers do feel that a register can deter a first offender or a non-convicted person, that they may be less likely to reoffend, but for the person who has been convicted and hasn’t had an intervention, it doesn’t help. That’s something we need to be very aware of, a sex offender who goes to prison, we need to evaluate the risk they have to reoffend. The higher risk offender you can make an argument that that person needs to go on a register but unfortunately there’s no intervention for any of these people.”
Most countries with sex offender registers do not make their registers public. According to the United States Office of Justice Programmes, which focuses on crime prevention through research and development, studies on the effectiveness of registers in preventing repeat crimes have been insufficient and have shown mixed results.
Dr Dean-Patterson said the government should broaden its efforts to address sexual assaults.
Reducing the backlog of court cases for sex crimes and embracing intervention programmes are key, she said. “You would be shocked at the number of sex offenders in prison, the numbers are so small. We looked at it in 2000 and it was less than 100 and of that 100, a half was convicted and the other half was on remand. I did other research between 2006 and 2008 of the Supreme Court, they had like 11 to 14 cases completed per year and every year we have between 50 and 100 cases. If we have that many cases and you can only finish less than 20 cases, that’s an obvious problem. We need to look at the risk factors and pre-bargaining because literature does show that intervention can make a difference to first offending sexual offenders.”
Contrary to popular belief, studies show the number of sexual offenders who repeat offences is low.
“There’s a small group of sex offenders who reoffend and those are the ones we need to be focusing on,” Dr Dean-Patterson said. “That’s why you need a risk-management programme where you look at the risk different people pose. The majority of victims are raped by persons they know. And in those instances, if you could get them to take a plea and get them in a programme, it would help but the government has to invest in mental health intervention for sex offenders and they haven’t done that and that’s something we’ve been asking for for 30 years. It’s a complicated problem. We need to sit down and work at this, not do these easy fix things because they’re not going to work but they will make people feel like something is done. We have to be able to resource our intervention.”
Support for a public sex offender register soared after the 2011 murder of 11-year-old Marco Archer. Archer was killed by Kofhe Goodman. Although there was no evidence Goodman sexually assaulted the boy, Goodman had prior convictions for sex assault of minors. In 2014, the Christie administration passed an amendment to the Sexual Offences Act that would establish a registry but the law was never brought into force. The law imposes a number of reporting requirements on convicts.