Jamaica Senate Approves Report of Committee Reviewing Sexual Offences Act and Related Legislation

Hon. Kamina Johnson Smith

Jamaica Senate Approves Report of Committee Reviewing Sexual Offences Act and Related Legislation

It is being proposed that a new offence of predatory sexual assault be created and incorporated into existing legislation in order to broaden the protection of the nation’s most vulnerable.

This is to penalise any adult who engages in sexual intercourse or anything amounting to grievous sexual assault with a vulnerable victim such as a child under the age of 12, or someone with a mental disorder.

The suggested penalty for a person who commits this offence, is a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The recommendation for the creation of this new offence, is one of several brought forward by a joint Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament that was appointed to complete the review of the Sexual Offences Act along with the Offences against the Person Act, the Domestic Violence Act and the Child Care and Protection Act.

The proposals are contained in a report of the Committee which was presented to the Senate by Leader of Government Business in the Upper House, Senator the Hon. Kamina Johnson Smith, who opened the debate on the report during the sitting of the Upper House on Friday (July 10).

“This provision (of the new offence) was a result of a very robust debate on the matter of rape and its definition and how much protection is given under our laws and the perpetuation of what is referred to in some quarters as a rape culture where use of benign terms such as sexual intercourse with a persons under 16 remove all of the impact and trauma that can occur around such an incident where especially the relationship is one of trust and confidence,” she said.

Johnson Smith noted that the committee of which she was a member, also deliberated on the matter of marital rape and suggested that women who are raped by their husbands, will no longer have to fulfil certain conditions in order to qualify for legislative protection.

“The Committee recommended that once a woman has withheld her consent in a relationship, irrespective of whether it occurs in marriage or not, it is to be considered rape. Among other things, it was recognised that rape is an act of violence and marriage is an institution which must be fostered in a context of love and mutual respect; not violence,” she said.

Additionally, the Committee recommended that the Sexual Offences Act be amended to place an obligation on persons who have relocated or been returned to Jamaica and have been convicted of a sexual offence abroad or have been listed in a Sex Offenders’ Register aboard, to report to the relevant authorities, and as such, they should be listed on the Sex Offenders’ Registry in Jamaica.

“The Committee also recognised significant weaknesses in the operation of the registry and therefore recommended expressly that the Ministry of National Security conduct a thorough review of the administration and operation of the registry,” she said.

Other recommendations call for a strengthening of penalties for offences against women, children, the elderly and persons living with disabilities; the strengthening of penalties, particularly in relation to aggravated assault and the murder of pregnant women; the creation of the criminal offence of stalking and harassment; and strengthening of the Domestic Violence Act in line with the international conventions to which Jamaica is already signatory.

Johnson Smith, contended that the report is not just another review exercise. “I believe…it is a significant step towards ensuring the safety and protection of the most vulnerable in our society,” she said.

Following debate on the report by Government and Opposition Senators, the report was adopted, which Senator Johnson Smith noted will now “pave the way for the completion of the requisite legislative amendments”.