The fact that the parliamentary committee examining key aspects of The Sexual Offences (Amendment) (No.3) Bill, 2021 has been given just three weeks to deliver its report is a hopeful sign that this crucial piece of legislation will be treated with urgency as it makes its way through Parliament.
T&T needs this Bill to become law so that sexual offences that have become quite commonplace in this digital age can be decisively addressed. The capacity to use sexually explicit material or pornography to abuse or invade the privacy of others has increased exponentially since the advent of the internet.
The hope is that parliamentarians, regardless of their political affiliations, will ensure the best possible version of this proposed legislation becomes law, sooner rather than later.
The debate of the proposed amendments in the Upper House on Tuesday showed that the issues were of concern to many of the legislators and there were very many valuable contributions coming from all sides.
Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial is to be commended for pointing out how inaccurately offences addressed in the amendments are described.
She is right. It is not revenge and it is not porn. The deviant behaviour described in the Bill is sexual abuse that involves the deepest betrayals of trust, a type of behaviour from which citizens are unprotected.
It should be made clear that the Bill laid in Parliament by Attorney General Faris Al Rawi tackles various forms of image-based sexual abuse, including the harmful use of technology in intimate relationships.
It cannot be emphasized enough that revenge porn is a commonly used but inappropriate term for image-based sexual abuse such as online posting of sexually explicit visual material, without the consent of the person portrayed. This includes photographs and videos either taken consensually and shared via sexting or taken covertly.
The Bill also addresses voyeurism—perpetrators are commonly referred to as Peeping Toms—deviant sexual behaviour that has long existed, but which has gained momentum because of the many options now available electronically to commit such offences.
The tough penalties prescribed in the Bill—fines ranging from $250,000 to $750,000 and prison terms of two to five years—seem to be adequate as deterrents. However, as is the case with many of the laws in this country, success will require stringent and consistent enforcement.
The onus is on legislators to critically examine and debate this proposed legislation, suggest amendments as required to plug all the loopholes and safeguard against abuse and wrongful application of key provisions.
This is important because the Bill can, in some instances, affect minors who can often be victims but also can be caught as perpetrators. The influence of social media has normalized certain activities, such as the sharing of sexually explicit images, which can fall under the ambit of the legislation.
But passing a strong law will not be sufficient if it is enacted within a framework that is devoid of the necessary policies and resources to ensure its effectiveness. Unfortunately, this has been the fate of many laws currently on the books.
Let’s hope that in the case of The Sexual Offences (Amendment) (No.3) Bill, 2021, things are being done differently and better.