Sex offenders register poses vexed questions

Saturday April 09, 2016 Written by Published in Weekend
Youth advocate and counsellor Thomas Wynne, was the only person willing to answer questions from CI News on the sensitive issue of setting up a sex offenders register in the Cook Islands. 16040843 Youth advocate and counsellor Thomas Wynne, was the only person willing to answer questions from CI News on the sensitive issue of setting up a sex offenders register in the Cook Islands. 16040843

The ability of sex offenders to disappear into communities has prompted the New Zealand government to begin legislating the setting up of a child sex offenders register.

To be run by the New Zealand Police and the Corrections Department, the register will carry offenders’ fingerprints, photographs, aliases, address, workplace and employer, car registration, computer IP address and passport details, according to New Zealand media reports

New Zealand Social Development minister Anne Tolley has said while the register does breach privacy rights, the most important thing is keeping children safe.

Asked to comment via email on this issue and if a similar register would be a proactive step here, the Cook Islands Police Service’s Criminal Investigation Branch did not respond. Similarly, Justice department secretary Tingika Elikana passed on commenting, saying it was a matter “better” for police to address.

Punanga Tauturu Inc, the women and children’s counselling centre also commented that information on offenders should only be available for police data as it is part of their role to monitor the safety of the community.

Only Youth advocate and counsellor Thomas Wynne took up the challenge to respond in detail to questions on this sensitive issue.  

Q: Do you think introducing a sex offender register would be a step in the right direction for the Cook Islands? If yes, please state your reasons. If no, could you please explain why?

TW: Sex offender registers are complicated for a number of reasons and I will explore these before I answer your question. A register is often the response of a community that have come to the end of perpetrators that have either committed the same crime again and again, or have been released into the community on bail conditions that have been abused or breached with another person victimized because of it.

Civil libertarians are averse to registers, and complain that a register re penalizes perpetrators and never allows them to continue if possible a life close to normality, hopefully reconstructed through programs initiated while in prison. The balance between the rights of the victim, the rights of society, and the rights of the perpetrator are debated heatedly.

So do I think this would be a step in the right direction? The answer is yes, but I do think by exploring some of the other questions this raises, the answer will be clearer, or at least easier to understand.

Q: Would a sex offender register help make our young ones/our society safer?

TW: What does it say about our society when we have a Maori proverb about sexual abuse” I plant my taro and eat my taro too.”  What would make our young ones and our society safer with regard to sexual abuse would be firstly to accept that we have a problem, and this problem is intergenerational, is hidden, is destructive, is generally laid at the feet of the victim, and touches every strata of our society both victims and perpetrators.

As I have previously stated in articles with regard to this blight on our society, I have been privileged from very early in my work here and up until only a few weeks ago to hear many heartbreaking stories, of predominantly young women that have fallen victim, to generally men, that they often know and or trust that have violated that trust and crossed every line of decency that we uphold as Maori and committed an utter betrayal of that trust. There is nothing more piercing for a person to experience then to be sexually abused and for that abuse to come from someone they will continue to see, maybe talk to and have some form of relationship for much of or at least some of the rest of their lives.

I was talking to a woman only a few weeks ago about this topic, and when we discussed why it happens, the suggestion was made that maybe it was the girls’ fault! Talking to a police officer about this situation, the comment was made that the girl was a “slut” and that’s why it happened.

Disappointing as it may seem this attitude is prevalent and far too often the girls, or boys, are blamed for the predatorial behaviour of adults in their lives who take advantage of a power dynamic in their relationship. Sexual abuse is as much an abuse of power as it is an abuse of the body mind and spirit and often they (the offenders) can do what they do because of this power differential.

And that is why often they hide in positions of power or places in our society, where we would never imagine they could be capable of such behaviour. What does one say to a woman in her 50s, tears streaming down her face as she discloses abuse by a family member when she was a teenager, and she sees that man nearly every day?

Or a sister whose ability to maintain and form loving relationships is untenable because someone sullied the waters when she was a child. The effects of sexual abuse last a lifetime and for many it is a life sentence of inner shame, inner doubts, blame, and “unattachment.” What can happen in a moment can and does scar a person for life. Nothing short of the love of God, and his saving grace can bring a person to a point where they can function fully again, or intense therapy or both.

So would a register make our society or our young people safer? It would definitely be a contributing factor, as long as a register was not our only response to this crime in our communities.

Q: Do you think issues of individual privacy should be considered as a reason not to introduce a register here?

TW: Privacy is an idea that exists in large western cities with populations and geography that provide for it. Privacy is a misnomer here in the Cook Islands; one only has to think about the outing of the Aids patient here in Rarotonga and the debate as to whether this information should be made public. One can think anecdotally about a number of situations where information is made public well before it hits the newspaper or is officially released. Apart from information given in a counseling session, which is privy to no-one but the client, there is little privacy here. That is a reality whether we want to accept that or not. If we did have a register it would be names that were already in the public domain. Does that mean it wouldn’t have merit to have them registered? Only time will tell and the more so as this debate and discussion continues.

Q; During our chat this morning you mentioned the “prevalence” of sexual offending -- could you offer more comment on this please? You also said: “The problem with a register is if you did register everyone, it would be people from every echelon of society, people you read about in the paper, it’s so widespread here.” Given that the problem is so widespread, what should we be doing as a society, as parents to deal with the problem. Where to start?

TW: If we could simply start by not blaming the victim that would be a step in the right direction. Can we stop calling them sluts, and saying that they egged it on and were complicit in the act-taking place? Does a young child walking home with “Uncle” really want him to push her into a hedge and rape her? Do we really believe that in some way the girl asked for it or was displaying behavior that attracted this behavior? Young women and men do not ask to be raped, to be interfered with, to be watched while bathing, or touched during a hug at a drunken party. They actually just want to be children and be awoken at the right time, when they are mature enough, physically and emotionally with a partner that loves them for who they are and upholds them with respect, care and honour.

Can we keep a vigilant eye on our young children when they play or when people stay over, especially when as one grandmother put it? They are “naughty”. We know who these people are in our families, and though they count on us saying nothing and their behaviour going on without restraint, if only one person says, “That’s enough,” maybe the victimising would stop. Yes, I am saying we are ALL responsible for addressing this problem; it is a societal problem and one that we have allowed to go on for way too long. Its not OK, it’s not naughty, it’s not the girls fault, it is evil in its purest form and despite our White Sundays, Gospel Days and church on Sundays it has only continued and grown. Sometimes because those very people committing these crimes are standing there in their Sunday best singing to God, and all the while hiding a dark secret,

Can we talk to someone we can utterly trust and get the help needed? Be they victims or perpetrators? Yes that’s right, the perpetrator needs help too. No-one wakes up and says “I’m going to be a sexual abuser,” and more often than not they were victims too and this vicious cycle continues.

The sooner we stop sweeping this problem, which must be larger then Ikurangi itself, under the carpet, and bring it into the light, the sooner we can see it subside. The problem is of course as I have already stated, is that many of those victims, and perpetrators we see in the paper, on TV and read about every day. They are in our schools, churches, and sports teams, and they need help. Will a register remedy this in some way? Maybe so.

Q: From your own experiences of working with students, how many names do you know of would be on a sex offender register if one were to be established here in the Cook Islands?

Too many to mention, and if I said to you just one, then that would be one too many based on the damage left in the wake of this kind of abuse for the victim. What I can say is that the problem is larger than we think, prevalent, and in every sector of our society. And sadly, many reading this will know of it within their own families, and know, whether hidden or not, the damage it has caused.

Because of the nature of my job, yes I see them every day, I walk past them at times, or wave at them as they go by, we stop at the market on a Saturday and chat and sometimes we have meetings and are in the same room. Sadly this is the dilemma of working in this field, living in our society and endeavoring to preserve the confidence of those we work with.

So to answer your question as to whether we need a register for sex offenders, my answer would be this: Can we also do more towards improving the lives of those already tainted by this societal poison and maybe, just maybe, get one perpetrator to court and convicted of the charges?

Can we see a perpetrator seek help and find the forgiveness and redemption he or she may be seeking? If families are strong and vocal, and protect the weak, the young and the vulnerable from those within or without that delude themselves about these hideous heinous acts – maybe, just maybe, we can have a Cook Islands where every young woman, and man can go to bed at night and not have to sleep in the fear that someone they know or trust will violate that in ways they could never have imagined.

Then, and only then will a Register for Sex Offenders be effective and contribute to the number of other measures we have in place, that are not there at the moment to deal with this terrible crime against the fragile, the young and the vulnerable. 

1 comment

  • Comment Link K T Bergin Tuesday, 12 April 2016 16:08 posted by K T Bergin

    Very good Thomas. Thoughtful and well articulated responses.

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