Published Jul 27, 2020 at 8:00 am
(Updated Jul 27, 2020 at 6:54 am)
Young people will have greater protection from grooming for sex by authority figures after MPs backed tougher legislation to combat predators.
Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health and spokeswoman for legal affairs in the House of Assembly, said that the Criminal Code Amendment Act 2020 introduced revised provisions in response to the need for increased public safety for our vulnerable population, namely our youth.
She added: For far too long persons under the age of 18 have not been protected from teachers, other authority figures, family members and friends of the family who have preyed upon them with persistent attempts to engage in inappropriate sexual or romantic relationships.
Ms Wilson said that changes to the Criminal Code Act 1907 would also deter persons from engaging in luring offences while in a position of trust or authority and strengthened Bermudas child protection regime.
She told the House: When considering that luring behaviours by a person in a position of trust can take place before a young person reaches the age of consent and persist well beyond 16 years of age, we can see that 16 and 17-year-olds are left exposed to exploitation without legal redress.
Ms Wilson added that the Bill, which passed through the Senate this month, extended the existing luring offence related to online engagement to include written and spoken communication.
She said the change would close the gap so that people under the age of 18 would get the same legal protection as those under 16 the age of consent for sex.
Scott Pearman, the shadow legal affairs minister, said: Its fair to say that all Bermuda will welcome this change.
This is something that has been supported and called for in the third-party charitable sector, for those charities dealing with children.
Lovitta Foggo, the Minister of Community Affairs and Sport, said the amendments created an additional level of protection for young Bermudians.
She said: This is a great step in the right direction and hopefully it will serve to diminish or even eradicate these types of behaviours from progressing.
Craig Cannonier, the Leader of the Opposition, said that the issue of luring and sexual abuse had been brushed under the carpet for a long time.
He said: The part that really bothers me about this is we are not speaking out and being accountable. You can find this going about just about anywhere.
Tinée Furbert, a Progressive Labour Party backbencher, said the problem of adult predators of children had to be tackled, addressed and that she hoped the legislation would help to prevent future offences.
She added: We often see things like grooming or luring, so it was very important to bring this sort of protection to our children.
The change came after Christine DaCosta, whose teacher groomed her for sex when she was a 17-year-old schoolgirl, spoke out about the gap in the law.
Police told her at the time that Robert DiGiacomo, her history teacher and a family friend who was married with three children, could not be prosecuted because she was over 16.
Ms DaCosta went public about what happened in March 2019 when she protested outside Parliament for tougher laws against people who exploited minors.
She told her story in The Royal Gazette last October and soon after met Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, to appeal to her to close the loophole that allowed teachers and others who worked with young people to groom and exploit children over the age of consent.
Ms Simmons tabled the legislation in the Senate last month.
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