Lawyer calls for sex education campaign

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Lawyer, Wendel Robinson. (File photo). Youth and gender advocate, Dr Cleon Athill. (File photo)

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By Makeida Antonio

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Sometimes the very specific language used in the law prevents the media from explicitly calling certain sex crimes what they are; for example — rape.

Recently, backlash has been spreading on social media as outraged citizens commented on controversial cases in the country’s courts last week.

On Thursday, Cabinet Spokesman Melford Nicholas also said Cabinet Ministers had a discussion with hospital officials regarding a pregnant 11-year-old girl who was admitted to Sir Lester Bird Medical Center due to fears that the pregnancy could endanger her life.

On Saturday, Observer reported that a 21-year-old man will be sentenced on June 24 after being found guilty of incest against his five-year-old niece.

Despite public outcry that these indecent acts against minors should be simply labeled as “rape”, a leading lawyer, Wendel Robinson, has clarified that the Sexual Offenses Act (1995) provides for several categories of rape, and it The differences between them must be understood as would the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), in order to determine what charges should be brought against an accused.

Therefore, he suggested that stakeholders organize campaigns aimed at educating the public about the law.

“It’s best to stick to the specific language. What I think needs to be done is for people who are part of the criminal justice system – the prosecutors or the police, even the Bar Association – to have public education programs where they can teach members of the public, or even a Facebook page where people can be guided as to the sections of the law and the sentencing process,” Robinson told the Observer in an interview over the weekend.

He then described the different categories of rape.

“You have a rape I call ‘simple rape’ as in the adult man and the adult woman who is not the man’s wife, and you have a rape, ‘rape’ in which the girl is under 14, subject to the same penalties as plain rape. Then you have illegal sex with a girl under 16, but this time the girl is 14, which is still rape in a way but of a different quality and considered less serious.

Robinson advised the public to understand why certain terms may be used to describe these heinous crimes.

“Incest is actual rape, but that’s another category. It involves sex with a person who is a family member of some category. It may not include fifth and sixth cousins, but it certainly includes cousins, uncles, nieces, nephews, that sort of thing,” he added.

Moreover, he explained that even if the act qualifies as sexual intercourse with a family member, the law recognizes why consent cannot be given in this case.

“If you go under article 8, which deals with the offense of incest, there can be no consent because of the blood relationship. One must appreciate all the different categories and penalties attached to the different categories of rape and sexual intercourse in circumstances that the law prohibits.

Meanwhile, youth and gender equality advocate Dr Cleon Athill provided insight into how rape can be dealt with in society.

Dr. Athill has extensive experience in guiding policy development within the Department of Youth Affairs and the Directorate of Gender Affairs.

She understands that legalese is used to describe indecent acts against children; however, a social context must be established when referring to these disturbing crimes.

“When we talk about sex in a relationship, we assume that both people have some level of equality, some level of what they do and that both people would have consented. That’s why if an 18-year-old was sexually assaulted by that same 21-year-old, we wouldn’t dare say ‘sex’,’ Dr Athill noted in an interview yesterday.

Dr Athill believes a number of people have experienced sexual trauma in Antigua and Barbuda and suggested journalists need to exercise a ‘double sensitivity’ when reporting sex crimes.

“Maybe you can’t talk about rape, but you certainly can’t talk about sex either. You can use the law as a guide because the law says it is a violation to have sex with someone under 16, so the person cannot consent. It is either legal rape, incest or sexual assault.

While it may seem like rape cases are coming to court more frequently, Robinson noted that the courts have adopted a new policy that expedites the hearing of such cases.

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