Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday is calling for tougher penalties for perpetrator of sex crimes.
Friday made the call on Wednesday, saying he was “very, very distressed” by the sentence that the court handed down on a man who was jailed for a total of four years on two counts of sexual assault of a 4-year-old girl.
The man appeared on a video showing the girl performing fellatio on him.
Friday, a lawyer, said that “the conscience of the nation … has been offended …, first of all, [by] the indecent assault on the child, and then the sentence of four years for such a serious and damaging offence”.
The man faced a maximum of five years in prison on each of the two counts.
Friday, who is MP for the Northern Grenadines and became opposition leader in November 2016, said that over the years, his New Democratic Party has outlined policies that could help to protect people against sexual assault in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“Unfortunately, over the years, there has been a lot of talk, and not much action,” he said, and pointe to the number of sex that are listed for hearing by the court.
“… St. Vincent and the Grenadines, unfortunately, has this reputation around the world of being high on the list for rapes, sexual assault, and so forth, in terms of national or international ranking. It’s not something we want our name to be called with. So therefore, we have to, as a nation, address this matter.”
He said that the extant case “could make a new starting point for us to say, ‘Well, listen, let’s look at the laws again, let us look at the sentencing guidelines and so forth, as they relate to these sorts of offences, sexual offences, especially offences involving children, who are vulnerable, can’t protect themselves in a situation, in a home, for example, where the child should be safe.
“That is where the offence takes place. These are matters that shock our conscience, and they should do so. But it shouldn’t be just something as a talking point, it should then motivate us into action. So that the government, the social partners, the society in general, should demand that these sorts of offences be treated much more seriously than the law currently provides them. Five years maximum sentence for an offence of this sort is too low.”
Friday said that a maximum sentence of eight to 10 years sounds like “something that would be more appropriate.
“I mean, there’s always discretion that would be given to the judge or magistrate, the trier of facts in these matters. But the starting or the maximum and so forth, should allow for greater penalties that would be a deterrent to persons involved in perpetrating these offences.
“But also it sends a message that we as a society take this matter seriously, that we are not going to allow for people to prey on children in their homes or anywhere else in our society. And just think that this is just something that is part of the way of life. It cannot be.”
Friday said that the NDP — which was in office from 1984 t0 2001 — is not in office and, therefore, cannot change the laws.
He said that the party, however, has made its position clear.
“But certainly the advocacy has to be there and the urgency has to be there for us to say that something has to be done to address this matter, to deal with the offences.
“You want to prevent these offences because no matter how much you punish people after they’ve committed these offences, the damage is done, the damage is done to the children who have been affected by this.”
Friday said that measures have to be put in place to prevent such crimes.
“… have social interventions, welfare personnel who can spot things and intervene before problems emerge.
“And then when there are problems that emerge such as in this case, all who are responsible, who are involved, who are culpable, must be held accountable. And then the sentence must reflect the severity, the gravity of the offence. In this case, it is against the conscience of the nation. This is why so many people are speaking out and talking about this, where there’s so much stuff on social media about it. But it has to result in a change,” the opposition leader said.
In October 2019,
The main opposition the NDP called on the government to use legislation to send a strong message of society’s abhorrence of rape and other sex crimes.
“One of the things a government ought to be looking at is to pass legislation, in my humble opinion, severely increasing the penalties for rape and sexual violence and to publish the sexual offenders list,” NDP chairman, West Kingstown MP, Daniel Cummings said then.