Senate agrees to stiffer penalties for sexual violence

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Senate agrees to stiffer penalties for sexual violence

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, July 12, 2020

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The Senate on Friday approved the report of a Joint Select Committee (JSC) which had been reviewing four pieces of legislation primarily affecting the issue of violence against women and children since 2017.

The JSC, which was chaired by Minister of Justice, Delroy Chuck, met between January, 2017 and December, 2018, when the report was tabled in the House of Representatives. It was approved in the House in Novermber 2019.

It reported on the review of the Sexual Offences Act, the Offences Against the Person Act, the Domestic Violence Act and the Child Care and Protection Act.

The report also embodied a motion which had been tabled in the Senate by the Leader of Government Business, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, in December 2016, regarding the requirement to review the Sexual Offences Act within five years of its approval.

The focus of the review was a number of murders and serious crimes committed against women, including pregnant women, and children, at the time which had triggered a tremendous uproar calling for harsher penalties for these crimes.

The committee held extensive discussions on the issue, which led to the recommendation that section 20 of the OAPA, which leads to grievous bodily harm be amended, “to expressly include the victim's known or visible pregnancy as an aggravating factor in determining sentences”.

The report also recommended that the aggravating sentence factor should not only cover pregnant women, but also vulnerable persons such as the elderly, persons with disabilities and children.

Opening the debate on Friday, Senator Johnson Smith, explained that she had raised the issue in a motion tabled in the Senate in 2013, while she was on the Opposition benches, and agreed that it be added to a list of issues referred to the JSC in reviewing the four Acts.

“To my mind, too much had occurred for Parliament not to take action,” she said about her private member motion which was eventually reviewed by the committee.

However, since then a number of other issues were added to the committee's agenda, including: treatment of persons with disabilities who are victims of criminal violence; sexual violence against both men and women; grievous sexual assault; and the addition of the names of persons repatriating from abroad to the sex offenders' register.

Following its full approval in the House of Representatives of the recommendations of the committee, it came as no surprise that it was fully accepted by members on both sides of the Senate.


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