Be careful with sex offenders registry

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October 13, 2011

Dear Editor,

The brutal apparent rape and killing of an 11-year-old boy at the end of last month was horrifying and sickening.  Rightfully, Bahamians are outraged at the savagery which ended the life of an innocent child.  In a way, it also claimed the lives of the parents and close relatives of the boy.
While most of us cannot truly feel what this boy's family is experiencing, we share their loss, especially those of us who are parents.  But, what do we do with our grief and how do we reach out to the family of the young boy?  How do we best prevent similar tragedies?  The sensationalizing of his murder by a once-respectable paper, turned into a tabloid, is shameful.
This tabloid-style journalism only further inflames passions.  In such an atmosphere, it is impossible to have a balanced and comprehensive debate over a sex offenders registry.  The call for one by the Bahamas Christian Council is typical of this group which usually talks first and on rare occasions thinks later.  Its proposal was knee-jerk and vague, as usual.
Perhaps there will be a special section on the sex offenders registry for bishops and pastors.  Perhaps those pastors who cover up or excuse those among them who commit sex crimes will refrain from their hypocrisy this time around.
Perhaps the Christian Council and similarly-minded pastors will tell us why they so easily give a pass to a man who repeatedly rapes his wife.  Perhaps, they can stand at the church entrance every Sunday and give out a scarlet letter to be worn on the good Sunday morning clothes of their congregants engaged in unlawful carnal knowledge or incest.
Every society or jurisdiction must find the most appropriate and effective ways to guard against sex offenders and penalize those who commit such crimes.  In so doing, it is critical to distinguish between various types or classes of sex crimes and the particulars of individual cases.  Laws and related policies that fail to distinguish between different cases are typically unjust.
For instance, a pedophile is different from the case of a 18-year-old man who has unlawful carnal knowledge of a teenage female months shy of her 16th birthday, who though legally unable to give consent, in fact agrees to the sex act.
It is a measure of the raw emotions over the issue of an offenders registry that those who may have concerns about the effectiveness and need for such a registry in a small community such as ours are demonized or labelled as siding with the perpetrators and not the victim.
Not only is this a false dichotomy, it also ignores the possible unintended consequences of such a registry.  While the creation of such a registry may make some people feel better, there are questions as to whether such registries work.
The research from a number of jurisdictions suggests not.  In the end, the law should not be used to give people a false sense of security when what is needed are measures to effectively prevent and punish various crimes.
Yes, even those among us with young children have questions about the wisdom of a registry.  The scriptures and jurisprudence tell us that what is needed in difficult times is wisdom and wise leaders, including politicians and pastors who will not succumb to the heated passions of the moment.  Instead, we need leaders who will search for the truth and the best way forward even, and especially, when that quest is unpopular.
Yours, etc.,
Concerned Bahamian

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News date : 10/13/2011    Category : Letters, Nassau Guardian Stories

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