`An important innovation of the Bill is shifting the burden of proof away from the victim onto the accused by a new definition of rape’
The Executive Committee of the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) has lauded the tabling of the Sexual Offences Bill 2009, and said that if the bill is passed in its current form, “Guyanese will benefit from the most enlightened legislation in the Caribbean. “
The bill was tabled last week Thursday and was sent to a Special Select Committee of Parliament for deliberations.
According to a release from the GHRA, “the bill addresses all of the obstacles which have made court proceedings almost as traumatic an experience for women and girls as the original crime. Apart from more certain justice, the law also provides for extensive awareness and training mechanisms to prevent the incidence of crimes of sexual violence.”
The GHRA identified an important innovation of the Bill as the shifting of the “burden of proof away from the victim onto the accused by a new definition of rape.” The body noted that “at present sexual offence trials, especially, rape cases, focus on whether or not the victim consented to the sexual activity.” According to the GHRA, this means that the spotlight is on the victim rather than the accused.
The new piece of legislation requires that the first thing to be established is the presence of coercive circumstances. “Only when an exhaustive list of such circumstances has been ruled out, does the question arise of consent taking place.”
The body has acknowledged that the “abolition of Preliminary Inquiries finally takes the Guyanese judiciary from the oral into the print era. This long-overdue step ought to eliminate a major cause of attrition in rape cases, namely, the interminable delays allowed in the Magistrates’ Court which, the casual humiliation by uncaring lawyers, contributed to the abandonment of countless cases.”
Additionally, “measures to address grooming of young girls by male predators” were acknowledged as “a welcome addition to the law”, as it provides “the police with an instrument to counter the growing number of solicitations, abductions and seduction of young girls.”
Meanwhile, according to the GHRA “the only weakness of the Bill lies in the multiplicity of official mechanisms charged with promoting sensitivity training, awareness, data-collection and community support. Too many official agencies charged with vague mandates and dependent on uncertain funding is a recipe for duplication and vacillation”, the GHRA stated.
He said that “a more sustainable approach might have seen attention focused on ensuring greater integration of existing services for victims of sexual crimes, leading up to the creation [of] Sexual Assault Referral Centres in which victims can have all their needs addressed in one place and in an integrated manner.”
The GHRA added that the bill is testimony that sustained efforts can pay dividends. “In this respect the GHRA wishes to recognize the 160 organizations and community groups who supported the `Stamp It Out’ campaign.”
It acknowledged in particular the Rights Of Children activities outside of Parliament on International Day to Stop Violence Against Women in 2006 when the slogan was coined after women were invited to stamp painted footprints on zinc sheets.