After the murder of 8-year old Sarah Payne, vigilantes were born and started angry protests outside the homes of suspected sex offenders.
Innocent men were held responsible for something they did not do because they closely resemble the pictures of suspected pedophiles released in the media. A home of a pediatrician was vandalized because the people got her professional signage confused of the word pedophile.
Because of these recent events, it is easy to understand that many expressed strong disapproval of the introduction of the Irish version of Sarah’s Law just to instigate or encourage violence from these self-styled vigilantes. Although these fears are understandable, nothing like this happened instead the result of Sarah’s Law was the protection of more than 200 children from harm.
The British scheme received more than 1,500 inquiries and nearly 900 formal requests for information in its first year. Among these figures, slightly more than 150 led to disclosures associated to child sex offenses while 58 was associated to other crimes but none resulted to the expected vigilante violence. The disclosure law like Sarah’s Law and the proposed Bill I is not about punishing alleged sex offenders or inciting public anger. It is about giving parents and guardians the capacity to protect their children against possible harm.
However, we cannot deny the fact that this disclosure scheme is far from child protection since majority of the cases of abuse happen at home. This is a sad reality that we should acknowledge and perhaps change the archaic law and provide more protection as intended.
Treating Confidential Information
Nonetheless, we should ask ourselves:
• What if the abuse does not occur at home?
• Are we going to be less concerned just because it occurs in lesser frequency?
• If a parent notices their child to be regularly spending with an unknown adult in the school gate, wouldn’t that arouse suspicion and wouldn’t that warrant confidential information to be disclosed?
Today, we have witnessed a large body of Garda intelligence and other bodies concerned about information are passive about the Garda information system. The Child Sex Offenders 2012 is a legislation aimed to put the information to good use in a smart and fair way. The system, however, is not yet authorized to disclose information to parents, guardians and caretakers that will enable them to take necessary measures to protect the children in view of the recognizable risks.
If the bill is imposed, the Information on Child Sex Offenders system will be established and this will empower the parents and guardians to inquire whether the person coming in constant contact with their children has been convicted for sexual offence or if would otherwise pose serious threat. Sadly, around 20% of sex offenders will get imprisoned within three years of their release but there are also unreported cases of abuse that render the information utterly inaccurate. The information disclosure scheme will help protect our children from repeat offenders.
The scheme is meant to inform and to empower parents to protect their kids from sex offenders. It is not meant to incite any public outrage or accuse innocent individuals just because they closely resemble sex offenders.