With the National Sex Offenders Register now in effect, the society has armed itself with an important resource for keeping track of convicted sexual predators.
Hopefully, the administrative measures required to operationalise the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act, 2019 are all in place and will not be bogged down by resource limitations of one kind or another. As Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi has noted, this register is important for “deterring, punishing and shaming rapists, paedophiles and those others with a propensity to commit sexual crimes”.
The high incidence of sex crimes is a spreading stain on our society which has been facilitated by a dangerous and insidious tolerance for violence, especially against women and children. Passed with the full support of both the Government and Opposition, the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act, 2019 ups the ante against sexual predators who will now have to consider the extensive consequences of their actions which ripple well beyond court and jail.
The amendments are a welcome example of the power of Parliament to act expeditiously in the public interest, although it should be pointed out that these amendments were too long in being introduced to close loopholes in the Sexual Offences Act. Monday’s announcement by AG Al-Rawi that the Act providing for the National Sex Offenders Register had become law last Friday was a timely alert to the population of the new legislative weaponry available to them in the fight against sex crimes.
As framed, the amended law benefits from the input of a Joint Select Committee report drawing on a wide range of opinions from professionals and civil society groups. The law takes pains to list the responsibilities of the Commissioner of Police and to detail the processes to be followed by the police and the courts in such a manner that the rights of both plaintiffs and defendants are reasonably protected. Among its progressive new elements is the stipulation that the police officer who laid a charge encompassed under the Act must “without delay” arrange for a medical examination of the person charged to determine whether that person has a sexually transmitted infection. The medical exam is to be done regardless of whether the alleged perpetrator consents or not.
The law states in detail the steps to be followed in this as in other areas of the judicial process, placing a substantial onus on the Police Service to train officers and implement systems and processes in line with the requirements of the Act. The track record of the TTPS in managing systems and processes is unlikely to inspire much public confidence in its ability to operate by the letter of the law. However, in the four months since the amended Act was passed by Parliament one would expect that priority has been given to putting all the elements in place. With greater protection now available under the law, it would be a travesty for justice to stumble against an unprepared bureaucracy.
While the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act, 2019 is not a catch-all, it can be a catalyst for changing the culture of violence by delivering justice to all who come before it.