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No place to hide: why tackling sex crimes is so much more challenging on a small island

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St Helena police are trying to find ways to help sex criminals avoid re-offending. But CATHERINE TURNER, prison visitor and human rights facilitator, says small islands face extra challenges protecting potential victims. And the offenders have rights too.   

If a complaint of child abuse or rape is to be made on St Helena, it is almost impossible for anonymity to be maintained, despite the best efforts of everyone to respect the privacy of the survivor.

There are 4,000 of us. We know all the police officers, hospital staff and visitors to the hospital. You are very likely to be seen in a police car, entering the police station, going into court. The perpetrator may see the police visiting the house.

For the accused (innocent until proved guilty) there is no anonymity either. Their name will not appear in the paper or on the police reports, but everyone will know who it is. They and their families may have to live with that for a long time.

For the same reason, the perpetrator is very likely to be a known to the survivor and family. He may be friends with the police officers, and doctors.

So if a complaint is made, it is against a background of fear and in the knowledge that the accused and his family will know you; that when you are shopping or your children are in school, the family and friends of the accused will be there too.

For the accused, depending on when the event takes place and the nature of any charges brought, a period on remand for possibly almost a year may await. The Supreme Court judge usually only visits the island once a year.

So the trial may be a long time coming.

Someone found guilty of a serious sexual assault (aren’t they all?) may be sentenced to four or five years in prison. The purpose of prison is to rehabilitate offenders so that they do not commit such crimes again. However in the case of sex offenders, and particularly rapists and paedophiles, they need very specialist counselling.

UK prisons like Grendon Underwood have a good track record, but the work is intensive and involves group work as well as one-on-one sessions. The counsellors themselves have to be supported by mentors as a result of the effects this work has on them.

To provide this for one or possibly two people in the population at any one time is not possible or cost-effective. We have one mental health counsellor for the whole island and he is not trained in the very specific counselling needed.

For the prison officers, it is demoralizing knowing that they could do the very best job, but it would have little effect because in a few years’ time another two-year-old will be abused.

But for the one person who knows that he will spend five years in jail and then is almost 100% likely to re-offend within a year of release, it is in effect a life sentence. It is a human rights minefield.

While it is easy to blame the perpetrators, often they themselves have been victims all their lives.

Catherine Turner is chairperson of the Prison Visiting Committee in Jamestown and St Helena’s human rights facilitator.

The lifelong cost of child abuse – and a plan of action

Childline – UK charity offering confidential help and advice to young people

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