July 17, 2003 – Some of the people who work with young victims of sex crimes say the territory's new Child Protection Act of 2002 already needs an overhaul to make a wider variety of offenses subject to stiffer penalties. One lawmaker says he will take steps toward seeing that such changes are made.
About 50 residents of the Kirwan Terrace housing community gathered Wednesday night to hear local experts on sex crimes talk about how domestic violence and child abuse permeate residential areas and thrive in places where people fail to recognize the signs of their existence.
The forum was sponsored by the Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Council, an umbrella group made up of advocates, prosecutors, police and counselors who interact with victims of these particular crimes.
"We feel like we need to go into communities and really publicize how child sexual abuse has impacted our communities and has a domino effect," Michal Rhymer-Charles, executive director of Family Resource Center and a member of the council, said.
Representatives of Territorial Court and the V.I. Justice and Human Services Departments explained step by step how sex-crime cases involving a child victim are processed, Rhymer said. They also discussed the V.I. legislation intended to provide children greater protection from sexual predators.
One of the laws addressed was the Child Protection Act of 2002, which according to Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone is tougher than previous laws but may have fallen short in some areas. "It was a recommendation from attorney Douglas Dick that the Legislature amend the statute further," Malone said on Thursday, after having attended the Kirwan Terrace forum. Dick, an assistant attorney general, is the chief of the V.I. Justice Department's Family and Special Victims Unit.
Malone said he is planning to meet with the act's sponsor, Sen. Lorraine Berry, and convey some of the concerns that were brought up at the forum by the people who use the law as a tool to prosecute predators.
Despite widespread support from community agencies, it took Berry three years to win the approval of her colleagues for her bill. And she did so only after modifying the measure so that 18-year-olds having consensual sex with partners 16 or 17 years old could not be charged with statutory rape. (See "Child Protection Act finally wins Senate OK".)
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