Executive Director of Lifeline Ministries, Tina Alexander, has said called for a Family Court in Dominica where matters involving children are dealt with within six months.
Her call came against the background of statistics which show 128 reported cases of child sexual abuse in Dominica in 2015.
She told Dominica News Online that the cases being reported are encouraging because it shows children are beginning to speak out but lamented there are very few prosecutions.
“Certainly there have not been 128 successful prosecutions,” she said. “The issue is about, even though the children are being brave enough to report, a number of things that is preventing those reports becoming successful prosecutions.”
According to her, a Family Court is needed where such cases are dealt with quickly, at least within six months, instead of having to wait, as much as years.
“A Family Court that has specialists who are able to provide the children with an environment where it’s easy for them to give evidence and where they feel safe,” Alexander explained.
She said in the present court system, children are faced with the perpetrators and they don’t feel safe.
“They are also subjected to something called ‘preliminary inquiry,’ where the defence lawyers make them feel like criminals and so they get very discouraged and frightened,” she noted.
Alexander argued that the preliminary inquiry could be conducted on paper.
“The law already allows for it to be done on paper and they are not currently doing that very often and they should be doing it much more often,” she argued.
She also spoke about ‘hush money,’ which is preventing successful prosecution in matters involving children, pointing out that some victim’s families are still being offered money by perpetrators whilst they are on bail.
“We are talking about how that can be actually made illegal so the victims’ families could realize that they can’t sell their child,” she stated.
Alexander noted that the enforcement of a Bail Act is posing another problem
“Because the Bail Act is not yet enforced, people who are accused of sexual assault, they were given bail very easily and we would like to see them hardly given bail at all,” Alexander remarked. “They should be given bail as an exception and not as a rule. At the moment, most sexual offenders are out in a couple of days. We want to argue that rapists should be in the same category as murderers.”
Alexander indicated that Lifeline Ministries and the Dominica National Council of Women (DNCW) are currently hosting awareness meetings across the island in recognizing, reporting and recovering from child sexual abuse.
At least seven meetings have been held thus far with the final held at the Marigot Credit Union Building on Thursday night.
The initiative is being funded by the Canadian High Commission.
“We have been training people to run a helpline where people will be able to get help to report sexual assault and sexual abuse, and that will open on March, 8th, which is International Women’s Day,” she said.