Child abuse cases on the increase; More sensitization on Sexual Offences needed -DPP
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DDP) says there are more sexual offences being committed against children, based on the files being sent to her on a daily basis.During an interactive session with the media on Wednesday, facilitated by the Ministry of Social Protection with the DPP’s office and which focuses on the reporting of Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence, the DPP, Shalimar Ali-Hack shared her experience with several cases which she would have encountered over the years.
During an interactive session with the media on Wednesday, facilitated by the Ministry of Social Protection with the DPP’s office and which focuses on the reporting of Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence, the DPP, Shalimar Ali-Hack shared her experience with several cases which she would have encountered over the years.
“Under the Sexual Offences Act in relation to children, you find that more persons are having, and this is particularly males are engaging in sexual activity with children and the children are both females and males but there are more females than males; based on the files coming. Not because the files have more females mean you don’t have as many males” she said.
This she attributed this not only to the perpetrators of the crime but as a wider problem in today’s society since the act is sometimes condoned by others and the perpetrator is even protected.
“You cannot have sex with or engage in sexual activity with a person who is under 16 years of age. There is NO bargaining with that and there is NO compromise and there is NO discussion on that. It’s a NO NO NO! Once the person is under 16, there is no issue of consent” the DPP affirmed.
Speaking about consent, she clarified that a person’s consent can change during the act.
She explained that there are cases where a woman may give consent to engage in vaginal sex, however, the male moves to anal sex, after which it becomes rape if she does not give consent. Also, if the persons are in the act and the woman says to stop, “it means stop”.
She further affirmed that the claim of not being aware that the person is below the age of 16 is not an excuse.
While she attributed to the “close-in-age defense” which when it arises, the perpetrator is not charged, it was emphasized that there has to be consent. According to the Sexual Offences Act, the “Close in age defence” can be used if the complainant is 12-14 years old and the accused is less than two years older than the complainant; or if the complainant is 14-16 years old and the accused is less than four years older than the complainant.
Based on the files taken to the DPP’s office, it was revealed that this defence is commonly used in cases where two minors are engaged in a relationship that the parents disagree with, consequently leading them to make a report to the police.
Additionally, the DPP cautioned against the sharing of nude photos; a worrying trend that is developing in schools and needs to be addressed by the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders. She noted that there are several cases where those photos end up in the hands of a third party and subsequently shared on social media, causing much damage to the person (s) in them.
It was also disclosed that there is a trend whereby young women and men are engaging in sexual intercourse and the young men are recording these activities unknowingly to their partner; something that should not occur.
The DPP touched on the issue of ‘date rape’ which occurs if someone consents to go on a date with another person and is forced to engage in sexual activity.
“There are many instances when females opt to go on a date and their intention is to just go on a date, not to have sex with the person but the person who is taking them on a date wants to go beyond that date,occurrence,” the Director said.
In this case, a substance may be administered or the complainant could be fooled about the destination of the date; something that the DPP said frequently occurs in Guyana, but not being publicized enough.
In this regard, it was outlined that youths need to be sensitized on the issue. Mrs. Ali-Hack called on young girls especially, to be more alert at all times to avoid becoming victims. This she said will also aid in the identification of a perpetrator if anything ever goes wrong.
“When you go out, do not take drinks from people because some of these people, they offer drinks and in the drink, there is a substance, they lose consciousness and then wake up in a hotel room” the DPP said as she spoke of a case in the past where a young woman from New Amsterdam ended up badly wounded in a hotel room after travelling to the city for a date the previous evening.
In relation to the rape of persons who suffer some form of disability e.g. visually or speech impaired, parents are being urged to ensure that they are educated from a young age. “Take them to the formal schools and get them trained from a young age for that person’s own protection” the DPP urged.
The DPP says one of the challenges being faced when persons with special needs are abused is the ability to get a statement or identify the perpetrators.
“There was this case where the girl was what we call dumb but the family in the home understands her and therefore, they are able to tell us that when they went out and left her home alone, they went back and she indicated to them that the neighbour (usually it is committed by someone who is in constant contact with them) rape the girl and the police cannot get a statement from her. We have a challenge there in taking statements from persons like them” she related.
“There is no family matter in this”
According to the DPP, there are several cases where a report is made and persons later turned up to say they do not want any police involvement since “it is a family matter”, however, she noted that “that’s what makes it worst”.
She believes that citizens are stuck in an age where it is considered cultural and is to be dealt with at home and not taken to court.
It is her belief, however, that more sensitization needs to be done to bring justice to the victims, instead of protecting the perpetrators.
In March of this year, Minister of Social Protection, Volda Lawrence was widely condemned for deeming a sexual offence committed by an APNU+AFC coalition’s Local Government Elections candidate, Winston Harding as “a family issue.” Harding has been charged several times, although not convicted, for child molestation.
One of the many challenges faced in dealing with offences is the “fast turn over” in the Guyana Police Force, the DPP said, leading to some cases not being investigated properly.
“Sometimes I see the verdict coming out of the Jury and I don’t know how they can come up with those verdicts,” she said.
According to the Sexual Offences Act 2010, a sexual offence is any sexual violation on an individual that includes rape, and any other form of sexual assault, such as touching or causing the complainant to touch a third party in a sexual way. The Act was passed by the National Assembly on April 22, 2010, and provides great insight into the rights of individuals, , to be free from sexual molestation and abuse, and the rights of the victims of sexual violations.