Do you know how safe your children are?

If there is one crime which is sure to unite people’s call for capital punishment it is child sex abuse. Sentiments run high with this topic. Malta’s approach is no worse than other countries but coordination at a European level is lacking.

I

Cases related to child sex abuse appear in the media every so often. Sex offenders are rarely named and shamed in the media. In most cases this is done to protect the victim’s identity. Malta is small; if you know the criminal it doesn’t take long to work out who the victim was. It’s shocking criminals get this protection because of our size.

But I can’t think of a better way to protect the victim while also punishing the criminal.

Yet I do wonder how helpful it is. If we don’t know who the criminals are, can we be sure they’re not doing more harm? The truth is things aren’t as bad as you’d imagine and Malta has a few sensible systems in place.

The Protection of minors (Registration) act allows for a sex offenders’ list. Such lists were only invented as recently as 1991, in the United States. Their usefulness means it didn’t take long before they caught on in many other countries.

We’re familiar with the concept of a sex offenders’ list: people convicted of sexual offences, particularly against children, get their names put on a list which the court maintains. Companies or entities which work with children can query the registry before employing someone new.

These concepts are popularised by TV shows like ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’.

Does this mean we’re ahead of the game in Malta?

II

Yes, but like any system it’s not perfect.

In Malta accessing the list is unwieldy which makes it less useful than it could be. To see if a name is on the list you have to hire a lawyer to file an application in the Civil Court. The Attorney General gets your application and has 7 days to reply. A judge will then see the application, and its reply, and will appoint a hearing. At this hearing the judge will hear your submission about the name you’re checking. If he grants you permission you’ll get the information you need.

The process is as exhaustive as it sounds because it can take several weeks to get an answer.

Poland takes things to a different extreme. You can go to a web site and check if any registered sex offenders live in your area. You can see personal data on almost 1 000 registered paedophiles, including ID photos.

It’s easy to criticise the system and claim ex-cons find it hard to reintegrate and change their lives if they’re labelled this way. But when it comes to our children it’s hard to find people who will stand up for the criminal.

The Maltese approach is good, but it’s not perfect

A middle ground solution would be better than either approach. Many, including the Lisa Marie Foundation and the Malta Union of Teachers, have already called for the register to be accessible online. I can already file tax returns and manage my banking online so a secure system to use this list is possible. The government can also restrict access for specific entities. This way instead of letting everyone check the list only accredited entities like schools will.

If you work in the HR department of a school – or any entity working with children – checking the sex offenders’ list would be as easy as checking your bank balance.

This would help.

What if a Polish sex offender moved to Malta and found a job here. Would his name be on the list?

III

I say ‘Polish’ as an example; anyone in the European Union can move to Malta because of the right of freedom of movement. We all know foreigners working in Malta. Their details would not be on the Maltese register and there doesn’t seem to be a simple way to find these sort of things out.

There is no such thing as a Europe-wide sex offenders list. I find this surprising. We’ve all heard of terrorist no-fly lists so the concepts and technology already exist. Interpol does a good job of coordinating things but if they don’t have the information to start with then they can’t help. Most of their work revolves around warnings when registered sex offenders travel. How they track this in a borderless Europe is unclear.

Eduard Peticky with his wife (Image courtesy of Mirror.co.uk)

What if a country has no proper law in place and no register?

In 2008 Slovakia did not have a sex offenders’ register. In that year Eduard Peticky moved to the UK after serving a prison sentence for gang rape and gross indecency with a child. He abused 3 children in England. At sentencing, Judge Peter Kelson QC complained it took 13 months to find out Peticky’s previous crimes. (This is important for sentencing; as a repeat offender his punishment would be different.)

This happened because Slovakia did not have a sex offenders’ list or a way to handle this information. Since then the situation’s changed.

It’ll take a long time before all 27 EU countries have the same level of protection.

At this point some of you are asking yourselves what you can do about this.

IV

A common European sex offenders’ registry is the answer to this problem. With the Schengen zone and freedom of movement we cannot rely on individual countries doing the right thing. A pan-European approach is much more sensible.

Image courtesy of Interpol

The European Parliament has called for such a Europe-wide solution since 2007 after the infamous Madeleine McCann case was in the news.

And yet we still don’t have one.

Having such a system isn’t even complicated:

  1. Every country will be free to put in place its own register. Each country is free to do it as it wants to. But all countries must have one.
  2. Establishments employing people who work with children must perform background checks on prospective employees. This is non-negotiable. Voluntary organisations shouldn’t be exempt either.
  3. At EU-level, we need a single definable engineering interface for these systems. All countries’ IT systems can adhere to this interface to allow for data exchange, no matter the technology they each use. In simple terms if one country uses a Mac and another uses a PC, the standard interface means the systems are compatible.
  4. When someone queries the system for ‘Joe Bloggs’, they get a response from the local one and from all foreign ones too. If Joe Bloggs was a Maltese national who lived in Belgium and was on their national register you’d want to know when employing him as a teacher in Malta, wouldn’t you?
  5. Any establishment working with children will get their accredited access to the system from their national government. Access comes with a sticker or poster they can hang to show they’re plugged in. This will reassure parents. As a double-check, the poster can contain a unique reference number. Parents can use it on a free web site to make sure the number and establishment match.

Does this sound like a good thing to you?

So how do we get there?

V

Europe needs to get this sorted as soon as possible. We can’t risk our children in a frontierless Europe unless we can tackle frontierless crime too. There already is an international sex offenders’ list for people working in charity organisations. So why not in Europe?

You’re the one who can change the future

If you want to see greater, better and smarter protection for Europe pay attention to the upcoming European Parliament elections. Speak to your candidates about this and see what they’re prepared to do. Forward this article to them and ask them to commit to pushing for change.

You’re the one who can change the future because you can vote for the right people.

It’s up to you now.

Share this because you love your children and want a better future for them.

References

  1. Protecting the privacy of perverts; Daphne Caruana Galizia; Running Commentary; 2008-04-22
  2. Protection of minors (Registration) act; Ministry of Justice; (Retrieved 2018-11-19)
  3. Rethinking Sex-Offender Registries; Eli Lehrer; National Affairs; 2016
  4. ‘Sex offenders’ register too cumbersome to be effective’; Matthew Xuereb; The Times of Malta; 2016-09-11Poland child sex offenders list ‘protects children’; BBC; 2018-01-04
  5. 44 names on sex offenders’ register; Matthew Xuereb; The Times of Malta; 2016-09-11
  6. 56 abusers on sex offenders’ register; The Times of Malta; 2018-02-07
  7. Sex offenders; Interpol; (Retrieved 2018-11-19)
  8. Rapists free to travel across continent because 22 EU states have no sex offender register; Lucy Thornton; The Mirror; 2015-08-24
  9. MEPs ‘want EU sex offender list’; BBC; 2007-08-22
  10. Global list of charity sex predators to be launched; Sean O’Neill; The Times of London; 2018-10-17

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