Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Northern Ireland and Sarah's Law (Not)

Sarah Payne
So says the title of this article, which was published in the Belfast telegraph last week. Rather a misleading assumption imho, has anyone ever stated that Sarah's Law was a one-stop remedy for paedophilia?
This is a very anti-Sarah's Law article from start to finish, and is filled with the usual misconceptions and unproven myths about the scheme, and also seems to be confusing Sarah's Law with online vigilantism. I am not sure how much about the workings of Sarah's law the author knows - not a lot by reading through it.
"Our Justice Minister, David Ford, is against introducing the legislation here. He fears it could lead to vigilante-type attacks". I would like to know why and how exactly Mr Ford thinks this? In the first place, any disclosures that are made (if necessary), are made in strictest confidence, only to the person/people directly responsible for the child or children concerned, and with the condition that they do not pass any information onto third parties. Secondly, sites on social networking that "name and shame" paedophiles and sex offenders, are far more likely to lead to vigilante-type attacks, where names, (potentially) addresses and all details are available for all and sundry to see, and more often than not are seemingly there just for the purpose of people venting their hatred towards this crime.
"Sarah's Law allows information to be given not just on those convicted of a sexual offence, but those against whom unproven allegations have been made" Really? Is this really the case? Sarah's Law is there as a "right to know", for parents to be able to better protect their child against someone who their child is in contact with who could pose a risk to the child's safety. From the guidelines "If police checks show that the individual has a record for child sexual offences, or other offences that might put the child at risk, the police will consider sharing this information with the person(s) best placed to protect the child," Note the "Has a record" bit. Obviously people who have had unproven allegations made against them will not fall into this category. Why has the author assumed this? Where has the author gotten this from?
"Another danger is that the sex offender register lists a 16-year-old, who had sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend and who poses no threat to children" And? If a disclosure request is made, would the police disclose such information? Would this person pose a risk towards children? Again, from the guidelines "If the checks show that the individual you are asking about has a record for child sexual offences or other information that indicates they pose a risk of serious harm to the child, the police may disclose this to the person who is most able to protect the child. It should be noted that details about a person’s previous convictions are treated as confidential and that the police will disclose information only if it is lawful, necessary and proportionate to do so in the interests of protecting a child from harm" As per my previous point, note the highlighted part. "Only if it is lawful, necessary and proportionate". Using the example given by the author, this would be none of the three and I am sure a disclosure would not be made in this case.
"Under Sarah's Law I foresee a flood of requests for information about the sad, lonely bachelor who lives in the most run-down house in the neighbourhood." Quite possibly. However, with the aim of the scheme being "to give parents, carer, guardians and other interested parties a more formal mechanism for requesting information about an individual who has contact with their child or a child close to them if they are concerned that the individual is a child sexual offender", anyone who made such requests would be sent away with no information. Sarah's Law does not allow for such requests to be made (made maybe, but action taken, nope). Maybe the author should read These five scenarios, particularly the fourth one, to understand a bit better. And a "flood"? Jersey has had Sarah's Law for two years now, and rather than a flood, requests have been a trickle. Two requests in two years so far (as far as I know). There may not have been a "flood" of requests, but this Law is there for those who need it. If it helps  safeguard one child, that is a positive result.
"I don't know the answers but I do know it's time we held our noses and dealt comprehensively with this issue. Because hysteria, ranting, or opting for gimmicks, does nothing to enhance child safety." Agree 100% with the first point. I wonder what Sara Payne would think, hearing the scheme she fought for being called a "gimmick"? I wonder what the people who have requested and received disclosures, being better able to protect their children from know child sex offenders would think - would they think this "a gimmick"?
I could go on, but you get the gist. Every unproven excuse there is. You'd think, with the success of Sarah's Law in the UK, these myths would have been put to bed a long time ago. Not so it seems.
Northern Ireland have been campaigning for Sarah's Law (along with Isle of Man) for a lot longer than we did here in Jersey. Quite why the NI Government (and IOM as well) are so reluctant (or scared?) to implement this scheme is a mystery to me. Sarah's Law is not the be-all and end-all in protecting children, but is one way that parents can protect their children . I hope that David Ford will one day realise this, and get this introduced in NI. Thankfully not all people are as negative as Suzanne Breen is (author of this article), the vast majority are, like me, fully supportive of this scheme.
For more information, please read these comprehensive guidelines on Sarah's Law

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