A perception of ‘slap on the wrist’ sentencing in cases of child sexual abuse is emboldening perpetrators and discouraging victims from coming forward. This, according to child sexual abuse advocates who are calling for changes in the way these cases are reported and handled in the court system.
Community activist Sandra Hill told Cayman 27 the penalties for those convicted of child sexual abuse should be sending a clear message.
“This behavior is number one, unacceptable, and number two, if you’re caught engaged in this behavior you will see some severe penalties. And as it stands right now, unfortunately that isn’t the case,” said Ms. Hill.
She is advocating for the creation of a child welfare office to work with parents, social services, police and the courts on such issues, as well as a dedicated court for sexually-based offences.
“That type of perpetrator is a very different perpetrator than anyone else, and I think the judges need to comprehend and understand what it is that they are working with so they can dole out appropriate sentences and they are not so easily convinced to give someone a slap on the hand, especially for repeat offenders,” said Ms. Hill.
It’s important to note that each case to go before the courts has its own unique set of circumstances: hard evidence, witness testimony, and other variables differ from case to case, which ultimately informs a judge’s ruling.
“Having faith in the system would really increase the amount of reports we get because there are so many that just don’t get reported, that people just don’t want to go through it,” said Allison Hidalgo, creator of the Pledge to Prevent Sexual Abuse in Cayman social media page.
She told Cayman 27 the reporting system also needs an overhaul.
“From my own personal experience, once you make a report, that’s pretty much it. It goes into a pool, you wait years until you go to court, and then once you’re in court you are pretty much stuck in the room with this person waiting in the lobby for however long it takes,” said Ms. Hidalgo.
Ms. Hill hopes lawmakers and political hopefuls have the courage to take this issue on.
Cayman 27 reported last month that Ms. Hill has been working with Bodden Town MLA Alva Suckoo on a potential motion to enhance penalties.
Ms. Hidalgo recommends the Red Cross’ darkness to light programme, which helps highlight how to spot signs of child sexual abuse and how best to report it.