Advocate blasts secrecy of Sex Offenders Registry

PUBLIC furore over the ease with which suspected child predator Carl Robankse was allowed to frolic with Jamaican State wards and allegedly make sexual advances has resurrected feelings of discomfort about the secrecy surrounding convicted felons archived under Jamaica’s Sex Offenders Registry.

The registry, which was established in October 2009 with the passage of the Sexual Offences Act, only has records for felons who are tried and convicted for sex crimes in Jamaica. The database, which is managed by the Department of Correctional Services, is not open to public scrutiny and all information in the register is “secret and confidential”.

As it presently stands, data held by the registry is only accessible to individuals or groups who are deemed to have legitimate interest, such as 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, and prospective employers and employees of sex offenders.

According to Joy Crawford, co-founder of Eve for Life which supports adolescent girls and young women who are survivors of physical and sexual abuse, the concerns over how Robanske’s past was not scrutinised seems almost hypocritical, given that Jamaicans are not able to eyeball their own sex offender registry .

“My biggest beef about the registry is the secrecy of it. I could go on my computer and type in sex offenders in Missouri; it brings it up, and I can see every sex offender there. I can see if they are my neighbour. Jamaica has said if you do this you are stigmatising the offender and I am saying okay, so where is the protection for the victim?” Crawford said on Monday during an interview with the Jamaica Observer.

“I don’t know how many people are on the registry. I don’t know if the registry is up to date. I don’t know if all [convicted] sex offenders are on the registry and we now want to say let us police foreigners coming into this country. We are joking. The registry is public in other countries; they can find them anywhere they go, including Jamaica, because they are going to keep tracking them. If we are not treating with convicted sex offenders in Jamaica in monitoring, then what are we going to do with those from other countries?” she argued.

Based on the law, sex offenders, who are convicted for a specified offence and not exempted, are to be registered once the conviction is recorded in the Supreme Court by the registrar; the Circuit Court by the clerk of the Circuit Court; or the Court of Appeal. Offenders are kept on the register and are monitored for at least 10 years before they are eligible for termination of the registration and reporting requirements. Among the specified offences are incest, rape, sexual touching or interference, sexual grooming of a child, sexual intercourse with a person under 16 years old, grievous sexual assault, and indecent assault. Up to August 2021 there were reportedly just over 330 registered sex offenders on the island.

Crawford is, however, questioning how well the entity has been keeping track of the felons on its records.

“I remember where one of our clients had been raped and the convict served time; but she didn’t know he had finished serving his time and was let out. She was walking home and saw the man walking down the road in the community and it was trauma all over again. Now, according to the registry outline, she should have been alerted to say the person is scheduled for release; there are all these nice things on the website but it’s not happening in reality,” Crawford charged.

Responding to the defence that registered individuals are kept secret out of fear of vigilante justice, she said, “The registry, for me, is protecting perpetrators when it should be protecting victims and potential victims.”

“Now, here is the rocket science; If people in Jamaica are charged and convicted of a sexual offence it is [a matter of public record] as when the ruling is handed down it is public record, there are places you can go and access the record of the case, so for me the registry is a repository of public information.

“All the registry is doing is pulling all the information. I should be able to go and see the entire picture, so when we claim that the registry is private and secret for those reasons it is redundant because the outcome is already public. It’s only that if you don’t have any interest in [the case] you wouldn’t know,” she declared.

“Why do we keep minimising this issue of sexual offences? Why hasn’t it been treated with the level of urgency required? Why aren’t we learning from the pattern of offenders? It is a no-brainer that there is a lack of commitment. There is a bias in how we view the lives of victims and survivors and what is required for them to heal,” the Eve for Life director for development added.

There are three main systems that are used worldwide to determine the registration of sex offenders — risk-based, sentence length-based, and offence-based. Under the offence-based system, which is the one used by Jamaica, registration is required when an offender is convicted for one of the listed or specified offences. It is said that the danger or severity of the crime is not reflected by this system.

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