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Opposition Leader Godwin Friday speaking in Parliament on Thursday, April 4, 2024.
Opposition Leader Godwin Friday speaking in Parliament on Thursday, April 4, 2024.

Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday has called for a review of the age of consent in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which stands at 15 even as the age of majority is 18.

“I know that’s a matter of concern to a lot of people as well. It would be good to have that as an input into the bill,” he told Parliament on Thursday as lawmakers debated then approved stiffer penalties for eight sexual offences.

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The review of the nation’s sexual offences laws, however, did not include an adjustment of the age of consent.

“This is only the beginning. I want to know that this blight, this scourge on our society, on life in our country, this threat to the well-being, particularly of young girls, that it is addressed urgently and effectively,” Friday told lawmakers.

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“Too many stories are stories of heartache and heartbreak that could be avoided. I do hope that the publication of the increased penalties will initiate a serious and urgent discussion broadly speaking, that will send a message that enough is enough; we, as a society, we are going to deal with this problem.”

Friday said that sexual offences are not just a problem of the individual or particular family.

“It is not normal behaviour to be targeting young girls and vulnerable women to exploit for sexual pleasure because of their particular circumstances,” the opposition leader said.

“That is reprehensible behaviour that should be denounced, punished and, by any means necessary and available to us, to be prevented.

“We talk about the situation of vulnerable girls [and] young women, but there’s also the pervasive problem in the workplace of sexual harassment, sexual exploitation because of uneven levels of power within the organisation and because of economic exigencies.

“That has to be part of the overall reform of the sexual offences legislation in this country. The sooner we do it, the better.”

In presenting the bill to Parliament, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves noted the “concern in the public domain” to look at an overall review of sexual offences, in addition to amending penalties.

But he noted that Thursday’s sitting of Parliament concerned “the narrow issue of addressing penalties”.

The amendment to the law did not classify non-consensual anal intercourse as rape — which attracts a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Non-consensual anal intercourse is still classified as buggery, the maximum penalty for which is 10 years imprisonment.

Help deter women from engaging in prostitution

Meanwhile, in his contribution to the debate, the opposition leader also called for support systems to help deter women from engaging in prostitution.

The revision to the law increases from seven to 15 years the punishment for causing or encouraging prostitution of a girl under the age of 15.

Causing prostitution of a woman has moved from 14 to 15 years imprisonment, the same as for detention in a brothel, a man living on earnings of prostitution, a woman exercising control over a prostitute, or keeping a brothel

There was bi-partisan support for the amendment to the penalties, which includes tripling to 15, the maximum sentence for sex with a girl under the age of 15.

There were also increased penalties for incest, prostitution, operating a brothel, and, among others, drugging a person to have intercourse with them.

Friday said prostitution is a broader societal problem that needs to be addressed.

“Do we have records? Do we know whether the incidence is increasing or declining? What support is there to prevent women, primarily, from engaging in prostitution?” the opposition leader told lawmakers. 

“We are not naive people in this chamber. We don’t live in a bubble. And so, we know in this society some of the stories that you hear of the level of the basement that some women undergo for economic reasons; that it’s a way to make ends meet.

“So then, when we acknowledged that — this is why I said we have to see whether the incidents are going up or down and relate that to the broader societal conditions, the economic conditions in our country, the opportunities for work that doesn’t require selling one’s body or doesn’t encourage it — nothing requires; it does encourage it.”

Friday said that the amendment to the law “is not a panacea to the problem that we have throughout our society”.

He noted that Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves had said that the changes were the beginning of reviewing the legislative approach to dealing with sexual offences.

“My preference –and I know that this is something that has been discussed within the government and elsewhere in social agencies — is to have a separate act that deals with such offences that is more comprehensive in nature. Other countries have that so, it’s not a question of us reinventing the wheel,” the opposition leader said.

“There’s guidance that can be had with respect to them and the reasons. Not just to be a copycat, but to provide more guidance for prosecution, to provide more guidance for social agencies in the education process and to provide a greater certainty as to what is considered to have violated the law, particularly with the notion of consent to sexual acts, those are things that need to be clarified more in our legislation and clarified more in our society.”

Friday said there is no reason “to presume that somehow somebody has consented when they have not verbally or in an explicit act indicated such consent.

“And too much of that happens. That thinking pervades our society. There needs to be much more done to address those issues.”

Friday said increasing the penalties “is a signal more than a solution”.

He further called for greater protection of victims of sex crimes, saying that sometimes victim-blaming includes suggesting that somehow a child victim might have brought it upon themselves because they acted older than they should.

We have to let it be known, that sort of thinking that’s for under a rock. That is simply not acceptable in this day and age,” Friday said.

“So, the overall problems, the broader problem, societal problems which will not be addressed here today — and I’m not blaming the act, I’m just simply saying that we are committed to having that process not just started and proceeded but accelerated.”

The opposition leader further called for swifter prosecution of sexual offence cases. He said that penalties only matter if people think they’re going to get caught.

“…But we also have to look at the timeframe that it takes to prosecute sexual offences. The complaint I hear is that many of these court cases take too long. Four to five years is too long,” Friday told Parliament.

“And that, too, needs to be addressed to see how that process can be accelerated so that persons who are culpable, that they are held accountable and that they pay whatever the law prescribes, and that the resources are allocated to help the victims to as much as possible, heal. That is something that we must accelerate that process as well.”

He joined with the prime minister in expressing disappointment that no one responded when the select committee put out the bill for public comment.

“That is disappointing, to be honest. Because of the gravity of the social problem that is reflected in the exercise that we are undertaking here today, this is something that everybody should be interested in,” Friday said.

“You talk to people casually in the street, and they tell you well, ‘Oh, we need to make this illegal, you need to have the punishment for these persons’ and so forth — punishments have been increased. But there are other issues, as I have addressed here.

5 replies on “Opposition Leader calls for review of age of consent”

  1. Please address the issue of raping little boys….anal sex but only 10 years for offenders… that in general terms…that anal sex is rape … Because it is sex that is forced etc….. Little boys are just as traumatised as little girls who are sexual targets too. While the matter is being addressed, let’s not pretend our males are not raped too… It would seem now that they are easier targets and that the men who choose to have sex with little girls can convince themselves that anal sex is less degrading….serious contemplation and action needed here. Also let’s look at the definition of sexual abuse in modern terms and also focus on using minivans as sex spots (houses) and playing sexually explicit songs in them in the presence of young children as sexual abuse too.

  2. Then he also needs to put in place that any married man cheating on their publicly and as a willful act should be posecuted both parties.

  3. C. ben-David says:

    Recent studies have shown that the brain is the last body organ to become fully mature which occurs in the mid-twenties (https://duckduckgo.com/?q=brain+fully+matures+at+what+age&t=newext&atb=v322-1&ia=web).

    Shouldn’t that mean that age of consent should be pushed up to the age of 25, which any sex before then being defined as rape?

    And what is the meaning of consent anyway when there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of horny and brazen 12-year-old girls who reached reproductive maturity at the age of ten, given our increasingly high fat diet, craving a stiff tone like stupidness, often raping younger boys to cool their heat down a little in the process?

    This critical issue is way beyond Friday’s mental level, regardless of his age.

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