National outrage at the rising incidence of sexual violence against children and women reached a crescendo this week when news broke that an eight-year-old girl, two teenagers and two women were brutally raped in their home in St James.
The news gripped the nation's attention and sparked condemnation from child-advocacy groups, Government and Opposition, human-rights advocates and citizens who are not affiliated with any group but are simply concerned about the emotional, physical and psychological impact on these victims.
The national condemnation culminated in demonstrations yesterday, with citizens wearing black as a mark of solidarity with the victims.
A sample of persons questioned by this newspaper in a vox populi suggests that the majority back harsher penalties for sex offenders. The responses clearly indicate that many persons are thinking beyond yesterday's march and about what can be done to put a lid on these horrendous crimes. It is evident that any move by Government to enact tougher laws would have overwhelming support from the grass roots.
Protecting our children and women from sexual predators is a matter of grave concern, and this is why so many voices are now united in condemnation. Among the recommendations from members of the public is the call for harsher punishment for sex offenders. In other public conversations, some have suggested mandatory prison terms, castration and electronic monitoring upon release from jail.
Another key recommendation was the revival of neighbourhood watch programmes in which people are comfortable to once more become their 'brother's keeper' and look out for each other and alert the authorities to anything that appears out of sorts.
The prompt action by the police in identifying suspects within days of this latest incident augurs well for sending a signal to other criminals out there.
DOUBLE STANDARD AND HYPOCRISY
However, it does not end with an arrest. Those who believe there should be harsher punishment for child molesters and rapists should demonstrate by their own actions that they believe in the ability of the system of justice to protect citizens. Alas, this is where the double standard and hypocrisy is evident in our society.
Many witnesses refuse to come forward and provide information to help the police in their investigations. Let's never forget that all it takes for evil to prevail is for good people to stand by and do nothing.
Prosecutors confirm that sexual cases are among the most difficult to prosecute, for often the young victims are too traumatised to give evidence. And when the offender is a relative, it is even more difficult for the victim to speak confidently about the attack. This means a suspect has a great chance of getting off scot-free if the case is not proven. Prosecutors should be equipped with the tools to do an effective job.
Then there are citizens who concoct a number of excuses to avoid undertaking jury duty. Anyone who shirks jury duty is contributing to the lawlessness in society, because cases are stalled for years if there are no jurors to try them, with the result that witnesses are threatened or become frustrated with the process, bettering the chances of the perpetrator to be freed.
As the country wrestles with escalating violence against women, the legislators need to get to work and find new ways of dealing with the problems, for a restless public will continue to take measures into their own hands.
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