Renewed call to make Sex Offender Registry publicWednesday, October 20, 2021
BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
Following last week's abduction of two young girls in St Thomas, allegedly at the hands of a man before the court on a rape charge, a call is again being made for Government to make the Sex Offender Registry open to the public.
“The public has a right to know who and where convicted sexual offenders are,” children's advocacy organisation Hear The Children's Cry said yesterday.
“Since we're told by the experts that paedophilia is incurable, we are bound with the responsibility to protect the children. It is inconceivable that a predator could abduct two children so swiftly, and apparently so effortlessly, in the same community,” said Hear The Children's Cry founder Betty Ann Blaine.
The two girls — nine-year-old Phylisa Prussia, and 13-year-old Winshae Barrett — were abducted in separate incidents and held for two days respectively before being found by search parties comprising police, soldiers, representatives of several agencies, and residents of their St Thomas community.
Both girls are recuperating after receiving medical attention.
Yesterday Blaine pointed out that the abduction of not one but two children illustrated the critical need for public access to the registry, as well as increased alertness by families and communities in the interest of keeping children safe.
Established in July 2014, the Sex Offender Registry is managed by the Department of Correctional Services, but the names, addresses and other important details it contains about convicted sex offenders are available to only the police, people engaged in professional counselling of sex offenders, people managing educational institutions where they are enrolled or seeking to be enrolled, people managing facilities that treat vulnerable individuals, as well as prospective employers and employees of sex offenders.
Parents, families and members of the general public do not have access to the information on convicted sexual offenders.
In hailing the herculean efforts by police, multi-agency groups and residents in the searches for the two girls, Blaine also questioned the rationale for the alleged abductor's release from jail in the first place.
“According to the police, the man seen on closed-circuit television with the first abducted child is currently before the court on charges of rape and illegal possession of a firearm. Hear The Children's Cry would like to know, why is such a person out on bail?” Blaine said in a statement issued to the media.
Her call is the latest of a growing number of influential voices which have called for the opening of the registry, a decision that would have to be taken at the policy level.
In June this year, director of Eve for Life Joy Crawford made a similar demand.
Speaking at a sexual abuse and child trafficking seminar initiated by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information at the time, Crawford said, “The Sex Offender Registry cannot be private. It's been too long in secret, and we don't know if anything is even in it. It's not rocket science, because if the convictions are made public in the media, then we should be able to see the registry.”
Explaining that the registry should not be kept private to ensure that parents can have the relevant information to protect their children, Crawford added, “We all know what we should do. The question is why we are not doing what we know we should do. All of us have to come and be a part of the war now.”
Minister without portfolio in the Ministry of National Security Matthew Samuda is also on record as saying the time has come for pointed discussions on making the registry public. His admission came on the heels of pronouncements made by Child Protection and Family Services Agency CEO Rosalee Gage-Gray that she would not be opposed to having the registry open to public scrutiny.
That call was also supported by Attorney General Marlene Malahoo-Forte, who argued at the time that the restriction on who can access the registry may defeat its purpose for being created in the first place.
Up to August this year, there were just over 300 registered sex offenders in Jamaica.