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Cops warn child abusers: We will hunt you down
A Child Abuse Task Force will be established to form part of the T&T Police Service as it intensifies its efforts to stamp out abuse in all forms against children, said Margaret Sampson-Browne, head of the Victim and Witness Support Unit. “We will be going into homes, schools, communities... we will be locking up parents, guardians, caregivers and magistrates must understand this.
“We will be moving to stamp out abuse and especially sexual abuse against children…we don’t care who you are we will hunt you down,” Sampson-Browne added yesterday. The task force would comprise specially selected and trained police officers and would operate in Port-of-Spain and have branches in south Trinidad and in Tobago, she said.
Sampson-Browne, who could not give a timeframe when the force was expected to come on stream, hoped it would be down “within weeks.” A retired Assistant Police Commissioner in charge of Community Relations, Sampson-Browne said she was finalising a proposal to be submitted to acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams who must give the final nod.
Although the task force would be under Williams’ command, officers would be working alongside the unit in terms of training and carrying out its objectives. Sampson-Browne said she had been “moving aggressively” in tweaking the final draft of the proposal and outlining specific objectives.
“We have to select committed and dedicated people who could work 25 hours a day, people who understand the seriousness of child abuse and are willing to go above and beyond the call of duty to save our children,” she added. She said there had also been a stark rise in the number of reported cases of sexual abuse, including those involving children.
On Wednesday, ASP Joanne Archie warned that sex crimes were on the rise, with more than 200 additional cases being reported up to the end of last September compared to the entire period last year. Archie said up to the end of September, there were 689 reports of sexual offences being committed, with a total of 484 reports being made in 2011.
Those statistics included rape, statutory rape (sex with a minor), incest and sexual assault. Archie said over the past year, the Southern Division recorded an increase in incest cases, with the Eastern Division receiving more reports of statutory rape. On October 24, it was reported an adult male in a day care centre reportedly touched the genitals of a five-year-old child.
The mother of the child was told there was no evidence to charge the man as the child was not raped. When contacted yesterday, Williams said he was unaware of the incident but if the matter was brought to his intention he would demand a full investigation. “In that incident if the child was touched on her private parts by the man that would amount to indecent assault and that would definitely be a criminal offence,” he said.
He added that rape was just one offence under the new Sexual Offences (Amendment Act) Act 2000. Williams, however, assured that the Police Service was moving aggressively to expose officers to all aspects of training. “Some of the areas will require a certain level of specialisation and I will consider providing certain officers with specialised training to deal with child abuse cases.” he said.
Chairman of the Coalition Against Domestic Violence Diana Mahabir-Wyatt, who also responded to the report, said:
“This is not the first report this year about a child being sexually molested in a day care centre by an adult male. The first such report involved a boy child and the response by the police was more or less the same.”
Saying she was aware of the incident Sampson-Browne said she was both sickened and concerned, adding that the officer involved should have carried out his function in a different manner. She added: “I don’t know if the officer fully understood what was taking place or if it was a lack of training.
“We also have to look whether the five-year-old could stand up in court and say what happened to her but there is no doubt there was an offence and this has really caught my attention and I am concerned. I am worried and I am perplexed by it. I think the officer should have acted differently.”
More aggression by police
As a young officer, Sampson-Browne remembered going on “stakeouts” with fellow female officers to catch rapists. She said: “I remember posing in Queen’s Park Savannah, in Woodbrook, at the side of the road and at the Larry Gomes Stadium, Arima, with other female officers…that’s the kind of aggression we had in those days and the kind of tactics we used but really we need to move aggressively at all level, including the Police Service if we have to efficiently and effectively deal with child abuse.”
Training police officers to handle sexual abuse cases has improved. Sampson-Browne said modules have been introduced at the Police Training Academy and at present 30 officers were being trained to handle matters involving different aspects of sexual abuse.
Questioned whether she was pleased how police officers had been treating with child abuse cases Sampson-Browne said while many officers had become more sensitised, the Police Service still faced some challenges. She said in some cases the first responders have been the male officers, some of whom have responded more efficiently than female officers.
“Police officers have been stepping up but we still have challenges in terms of their responses to the public and how they treat with child abuse cases,” she added.
Act No 12 of 2012 of the Sexual Offences Act states:
Where a person touches a child and:
(a) the touching is sexual
(b) the child is under 16 years of age, the person commits an offence.
(2) A person who commits an offence under subsection (1) is liable
(a) on summary conviction, to a fine of $50,000 and to imprisonment for ten years; or
(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for 20 years.
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