TWO statements on sex crimes last week hint at improvements to come in the official response to sex trafficking and assault.
Counter-Trafficking Unit director Alana Wheeler announced at a police briefing on Thursday that research suggests that TT has a strong appetite for sex services relative to other islands in the region.
Wheeler posited that local demand was one reason for a robust sex trafficking business. The unit recently broke up a large network trafficking minors from Venezuela to Trinidad, revealing a ring of corruption that incriminated police officers in ranks ranging from constable to inspector.
Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith explained that a group of 75 officers was being monitored for corrupt activity, but while there is intelligence on their actions, there is not enough evidence.
Clearly peeved, Griffith noted that: “In some countries that intelligence should be enough to have these officers removed.”
In January 2019 a Special Reserve officer faced charges of rape, grievous sexual assault and false imprisonment of a Venezuelan woman.
That case is only an indicator of the normalisation of criminal abuse and exploitation of women and minors in Trinidad and Tobago.
Wheeler reported that most victims of human trafficking into this country are targeted for sexual exploitation at 85 per cent, compared to a global average of 59 per cent.
By July 2019, the Child Protection Unit had laid 247 charges and made 97 arrests for that year, warning parents, guardians and caregivers to exercise more caution in the care of their charges.
Last week the police commissioner amplified that response, announcing a new Sexual Offences Unit within the service, promising “elite units that have highly-trained persons who understand the sensitivity, the confidentiality and how to treat with the victims and how to go after the perpetrator.”
The new unit will work in concert with the resources and capabilities of the existing Child Protection Unit and Gender Based Violence Unit (GBVU). The new unit, temporarily led by acting Supt Claire Guy-Alleyne, head of the GBVU, will have a mandate to investigate sexual assault against adult victims.
These investigative improvements are being matched by revamped laws designed to toughen the consequences of sex crimes.
In February, the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act, 2019 became law, allowing the police commissioner to create a list of sex offenders, and names can be published online. “The laws that stood regarding the registration of sex offenders were inadequate, inconsistent and underutilised,” the Legal Affairs Ministry said in a press release announcing the new laws.
That legislative amendment also toughens legal remedies for victims of sexual assault.
These advances in policing and prosecution must be matched by 21st-century resolve to limit opportunities for these horrible crimes.