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Barriere Bits, Issue #020 Sentences for Child Abuse
January 20, 2009
Welcome to Barriere Bits, the child abuse information e-zine that will provide you with international child abuse information.
In this issue, you'll find child abuse news from:
My Comments: Even prior to Judge Morgan's ruling, this case has been highly controversial in Canada. Whenever a child dies either by the hand of a parent, or through their negligence as was the case here, emotions and outrage run high. And nowhere do those emotions run higher than in the community where this tragedy occurred. The traditional sentencing circle of the First Nation is an opportunity for the entire community to heal because responsibility and accountability for the crime committed is considered by all members of the community; something that is sorely lacking in our conventional court system of trying, convicting and sentencing without regard for those in the community who were affected by that crime.
It must be understood that the sentencing circle, also called the "healing circle" does not preclude a prison sentence for Pauchay's criminal negligence, a prison sentence that could be up to five years. In Judge Morgan's 15-page decision, he declined the request of the some of the First Nation members that the sentencing circle be private and conducted on the reserve. Instead, he decided the process should be public and open to the media, and should be held at the courthouse. Judge Morgan wants the sentencing circle to help him acquire more information about Mr. Pauchay so that he can determine "a fitting sentence".
I believe this decision was a good one in that our entire nation was affected by this tragedy. We should all have the opportunity to view the process of the First Nation; and perhaps our legal system can learn something valuable from observing it.
My Comments and Some Additional Information: The family in this case had moved from one jurisdiction to another. Authorities in the first jurisdiction made authorities in the second aware of the possible need to remove the girl from the home, but it was over two years and following several additional complaints from concerned friends and school officials before the girl was finally taken into care. Politicians have now called for an external investigation into how the case was handled. A poll of 1000 readers of a local newspaper revealed that 98% were in favour of a lengthier sentence, 74% of whom wanted a sentence of at least 3 years imposed on the couple.
This beaten and battered girl was victimized by the people in charge of protecting her, and then further victimized by a system that in effect allowed the brutal abuse to go on for an extended period of time. I can only hope the prosecution will launch a sentencing appeal in an effort to send the message to the girl that what her parents did to her was unacceptable and had "real" consequences. A 5-month sentence for methodically abusing this girl is not justice; it amounts to a slap on the wrist for the couple and a slap in the face for this girl. Shame on this judge!
Civil rights attorney Rauch Wise of Greenwood believes mandatory minimum prison sentences would "...treat everyone as if they are a worse criminal than some of them are". He went on to say, "If we continue to pass mandatory minimums, the prisons would become our biggest institutions in South Carolina." President of the South Carolina Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Drew Carroll agrees. He believes mandatory minimum sentences would cause the courts to "slow to a crawl" because there would be more trials and fewer plea bargains.
State Representative Shannon Erickson (Republican – Beaufort) who is past president of the South Carolina Child Care Association supports the higher minimum sentences on child care providers who are convicted of inflicting harm on a child.
My Comments: On the heals of the Denmark case above, where the couple received a few months for brutally beating a young girl, the effects of which will be lifelong for her, how can I not support mandatory minimum sentences. I can understand the position of the two attorneys I quoted from South Carolina, but the answer to child abuse that leaves a child seriously harmed does not lie in plea bargains and fewer trials. As a society, we must send a message to victims and perpetrators alike that criminal child abuse will have more severe consequences; otherwise, we re-victimize the child who will face a life time of ill effects from that abuse.
My Comments: To us Westerners, it is difficult to understand why a helpline would be set up exclusively for reporting child prostitution and not other forms of child abuse. But the sexual exploitation of children is rampant in parts of India, and society still considers it taboo to discuss the issue, which is often directly tied into poverty. Making people aware of the toll-free number, alongside an educational campaign, will help make people in India aware that turning a blind eye to this widespread problem is unacceptable. Sadly, it takes baby steps In order to change the mindset of society; but baby steps are better than no steps at all.
Video Readings: I announced last month my newest website feature: weekly videotaped readings from On My Own Terms, A Memoir. I promised a new reading each week for the next few months. My voice is rather croaky and I'm all stuffed up due to a nasty cold, so last week's video will remain until next week. Expect a new reading Thursday, January 29, 2009. If you haven't already, check out what I have to say about my abusive mother at Upheaval.
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Darlene Barriere is a child abuse survivor, a violence and abuse prevention educator and author of On My Own Terms, A Memoir. She lives in semi-arid Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada with her husband, John.
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