83.4 F
Cruz Bay
Thursday, June 13, 2024


A bill approved as amended by the Senate Operations Committee Wednesday is intended to strengthen child protection laws by raising the age of sexual consent from 16 years of age to 18 and by identifying anyone up to age 18 as a "child" in rape cases.
Testifying on amendments to the proposed Child Protection Act of 2000 were Iris Kern, executive director of The Safety Zone on St. John; Dilsa Capdeville and Joyce Pruitt of Kidscope on St. Thomas; Clema Lewis, co-director of the Women's Coalition of St. Croix; and Michal Rhymer, executive director of the Family Resource Center on St. Thomas.
The women were of one mind on the definition of a child, which in the original bill made distinctions for different ages. "From zero to 18 is a child," Lewis said. Kern added that "despite the fact that their bodies may have matured . . . they should be treated like the children they are."
Kern also noted that, while people who assault children are "sick persons, monsters, they were not born that way." She said unless psychological treatment is part of their incarceration, they will resume their pathological behavior as soon as they get out of prison. She urged that a treatment program be built into the territory's penal system.
Rhymer said there should be no time limitation on criminal action for aggravated rape, a clause which the bill contains. "There have been several instances where children haven't reported rape for over three years," she said. And she cautioned that "predators who rape one child will most likely move on to another child victim."
Capdeville said the islands are "loaded with pedophiles," people who prey sexually on children. "If you want to take a look, just go to the Children's Village during Carnival," she said.
Sen. Lorraine Berry, a committee member, presented some current V.I. statistics. She said that of the 28 reported rapes in the first six months of this year, 21 were against children. She said the number of such offense reported has almost doubled from last year, at least in part because victims and their parents or guardians are less afraid of coming forward.
Also, Berry said, incest is accounting for a larger proportion of the rapes reported than in the past. She said she didn't know why, or whether it could be culturally related.
Under the amendment:
– First degree aggravated rape would be defined as sexual intercourse or sodomy with anyone under 18, except with a spouse, and/or by anyone using a deadly weapon while committing rape. The penalties would be 15 years to life in prison for the first offense, and 25 years to life for the second offense and any subsequent offenses. Attempted aggravated rape would be carry 7 to 25 years imprisonment.
– A new category would be created of second degree aggravated rape, which would apply to anyone using force, intimidation, or a position of authority to have sexual intercourse or sodomy with anyone under 18 living in the same household, except a spouse. Second-degree aggravated rape would carry penalties of 10 years to life for the first offense, and 20 years to life for second and subsequent offenses.
The amendment was passed unanimously by Sens. Berry, Donald "Ducks" Cole, Roosevelt David, David Jones and committee chair Gregory Bennerson. Committee members Adelbert Bryan and Allie-Allison Petrus were absent. The bill now goes to the Rules Committee, which will determine whether it will go before the full Senate.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.