Wednesday, July 1, 2009

An Initial Assessment of the Stamp It Out Consultation



How should the church respond initially? … and thereafter in detail?


Guyana’s Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Priya Manickchand hosted a two-hour “consultation” with members of the religious community on 1/23/08 in the boardroom of the Ethnic Relations Commission. At issue was the “Stamp It Out” initiative to curb sexual violence against women and children.

Enough material was exchanged during the course of that event to show that the church should take a strong interest in the development of comprehensive draft legislation … as distinct from blindly endorsing the strong punitive bias in the Ministry’s “Stamp It Out” proposals.

This critique summarizes key issues (and their implications) that arose during the consultation, especially those not reported by the local press, and advises on responses.

Kaieteur News (KN) carried a carefully edited and government-biased version of the consultation on 1/24/08, and readers should read same to fill in the gaps. This KN-report reflects the dangerous instinct to conformity that is driving the “Stamp It Out” initiative thus far. Sadly, one can easily detect a complicit media this early in the programme.

Please note that the same article advises that the Ministry hopes to table a Draft Bill in March 2008.

The church should not wait for that date to offer (1) an immediate response to the consultation based on the suggestions below, and (2) a detailed response to the full document itself by February 28, 2008.

Summary of consultation:

Minister Priya Manickchand delivered a 30-minute presentation accompanied with a slideshow that outlined the basics of that “Stamp It Out” (SIO) initiative. Detailed accounts of the proposed reforms are found in the 48-page “Stamp It Out” Consultation Paper available at A summary of same reforms is at pages 43-44 of the document.

Key reforms to be addressed were slated as:

1. Abolition of the Preliminary Inquiry (PI) (see pg 25ff in the SIO document)
- PI takes years sometimes, thereafter High Court Trial, result enormous delay.
- Reform will be based on “paper committals” where the bundle of statements given by the prosecution to the defence seven days before the hearing is enough for the magistrate to have a “hearing” and immediately refer the matter to the High Court.
2. Establishment of a Sexual Offences Court
3. Offering an Integrated Services Unit at the Georgetown Hospital for treatment.
4. “Modernizing” sexual offences (see pg. 11 of the SIO document) by making it “gender neutral”.
- moving the classic definition of “rape” as a forcible entry of the vagina by a penis or other object to include penetration of the anus by any other body part (eg penis) or object.
- Increase maximum penalty to life imprisonment, with 7 years as a minimum.
- Addressing “consent” and “coercive circumstances” issues that instead place the burden on the behaviour of the accused rather than that of the victim.

Issues arising out of the "consultation":

1. The SIO document (acquired for the first time by many persons at the consultation’s date 1/23/08) itself notes (page 3) that the “deadline” for responses was 31st December 2007. If pastors had attended any consultation before, the church has to immediately devise strategies for reporting and sharing information in future.

One immediate response by the church should be that the Minister engages the religious community with more immediacy in future on this developing initiative.

Another immediate response should be that the very volume of the issues addressed in the document demands that the church have at least one month after the consultation to research the Ministry’s findings and premises as outlined in the Consultation Paper, and thereafter offer its full and informed view.

2. The attention of the Minister was drawn to the fact that “modernizing” the law relative to rape of males, though well-intentioned, had obvious and immediate implications when considered with (3) below.

Guyana’s criminal laws currently prohibit consensual or non-consensual sexual activity between males whether adults or minors. This includes offences in relation to sexual activity between males, such as s. 351 (gross indecency between males), s. 352 (attempted buggery), s. 353 (buggery) of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act, Chapter 8:01, and offences in relation to prostitution, such as s. 356 of Chapter 8:01 and s. 165 of Chapter 8:02 (keeping a common bawdy house) and s. 166 of 8:02 (loitering for the purposes of prostitution).

Adopting (or hijacking) a part of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act Chapters 8:01 which EXPRSSLY PROHIBITS sexual activity between males and offering to use it to deal with a “missing” element under legislation regarding “non-consensual” intercourse in a “special rape court” raises two potential hazards:

- It acts to weaken and possibly demolish the solid walls proscribing (expressly forbidding) homosexual sodomy provided by Ch. 8:01, and replaces it with the alternative prospect of a high-powered team of defence lawyers forcing victims (the Ketley Street boys?) to admit to “consensual” sexual activity for which they were probably paid.

- To the extent that part of the Minister’s well-intentioned but misguided plan now introduces arguments of the crime’s (sodomized rape) “consensual” or “non-consensual” nature, then a door is being opened to argue in future cases about the perpetuator’s or victim’s “sexual orientation” … a right not protected by Guyana’s Laws.

Good medical, legal and societal reasons exist for the solid protection provided by Guyana’s criminal law in this regard, and they have not been eroded by the passage of time, as provided by the solid arguments provided by the law reviews below:

Child Molestation and the Homosexual Movement”, by Steve Baldwin. 14 Regent U. L. Rev. 267 (2002),

Why NARTH? The American Psychiatric Association’s Destructive and Blind Pursuit of Political Correctness”; by Ben Kaufman. 14 Regent U. L. Rev. 423 (2002).

Gay Orthodoxy and Academic Heresy”. By Ty Clevenger. 14 Regent U. L. Rev. 241 (2002);

… and the following statements by the Surgeon General of the United States of America and other medical authorities, since the Minister claims to be similarly concerned with the current epidemic of HIV/AIDS that is ravaging Guyana:

"The Surgeon General has said, "Condoms provide some protection, but anal intercourse is simply too dangerous a practice." ("Condoms and sexually transmitted diseases, especially AIDS": Article 7, FDA document 90-4239)

“.... The physiology of the rectum makes it clear that sodomy is unnatural. The inward expansion of the rectum during anal intercourse frequently tears the rectal lining, resulting in spasms, colitis, cramps, and a variety of other physical responses. Furthermore, sperm can readily penetrate the rectal wall (the vagina cannot be so readily penetrated) and do massive immunological damage, leaving the body vulnerable to a bewildering variety of opportunistic infections....” (David Ostrow et al, eds., “Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Homosexual Men”, New York, Plenum Medical Book Co., 1982 … in the article “Hemorrhoids, Anal Fissure and Condylomata Acuminata”; G. Manligit et al., “Chronic Immune Stimulation by Sperm Alloantigens,” in the Journal of the American Medical Association 251, 1984 … 237-241; See also J. Richards et al., “Rectal Insemination Modifies Immune Responses in Rabbits,” Science 224 … 1984 … 390-392; G. Shearer and A. Rabson, “Semen and Aids,” Nature 308 … 1984:230 … as quoted by Roger Magnuson in “Are Gay Rights Right?”).

An immediate suggestion from the church could be that a better approach would be to leave issues of sexual activity between males within the confines of Ch. 8:01 of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act and instead ADD “rape” to the list of offences therein proscribed … perhaps as an aggravated addendum to sections 352 (attempted buggery) and 353 (buggery).

Another immediate suggestion by the church should be that penalties under Ch. 8:01 should be increased to reflect those proposed at Annex 2, pg. 45-48, of the Consultation Paper.

3. The attention of the Minister was drawn to the fact that the influence of pornography had its place in the existing situation as described in the Consultation Paper, but the Minister reminded the audience that the Ministry’s consultation document did not consider prostitution, pornography or homosexuality in coming to its conclusions (see s. 14 and s. 15 on pages 2-3 of the Consultation Paper) … deeming them as “complex”.

An immediate suggestion from the church could be that not to address prostitution, pornography and homosexuality in considering the similarly “unnatural activity” that constitutes “rape” reflects an incomplete, possibly reckless, approach by the Ministry that could illustrate similar deficiencies in the Ministry’s assumptions …. and prescriptions. These issues could not be ignored as if they did not exist. Good law is founded on good data, not convenience.

Another immediate suggestion by the church in that regard could be that not to consider the uncensored sale of thousands of “blue” DVD’s on Guyana’s streets (10 for US$5), or not to consider an absolute ban on “homosexual-film festivals” of the sort peddled by a business place (Sidewalk Café) that currently sits less than 50 feet away from a prominent secondary school (Christ Church), was tantamount to irresponsibility on the part of the Minister and the Ministry of Human Services. The Ketley Street Primary incident reminds us that school-children are very vulnerable.

The Ministry of Human Services, and the Ministry of Education, had been written before on the issue, and had not responded.

Finally, the following comment in the first paragraph of page 2 of 16 of the law review by Dr. Steve Baldwin, "Child Molestation and the Homosexual Movement" cited at (2) above raises fertile opportunity for research scientists and policy-makers in the Caribbean:

".... Unfortunately, the truth is stranger than fiction. Research confirms that homosexuals molest children at a rate vastly higher than heterosexuals, and the mainstream homosexual culture commonly promotes sex with children. Homosexual leaders repeatedly argue for the freedom to engage in consensual sex with children, and blind surveys reveal a shockingly high number of homosexuals admit to sexual contact with minors. Indeed, the homosexual community is driving the worldwide campaign to lower the age of consent.... "

The Minister, paradoxically (she is a lawyer by profession) has inadvertently signalled that she may well choose to ignore the submissions in the law reviews cited above. This would be unwise.

4. The attention of the Minister was drawn to the fact that a period of time was needed for the religious community to study the Consultation Paper and come up with their studied and deliberate response. Ms. Texiera argued that the religious community should come up with a clear moral statement, since the attitude of the various religious texts was clear on the issue. She cited examples.

An immediate suggestion by the church could be that they had no problem with the immediate and outright “moral statement” that Ms. Texiera advocated, but that the attendant issues of “mandatory sentencing” and “life imprisonment” outside of a deliberate study and a holistic approach was fraught with danger. It amounted to “locking up the prisoner and throwing away the key”. This was dubious law at best, and decidedly bad law in as porous a legal system as Guyana’s.

5. The attention of the Minister was drawn to the fact that the cover page of her slide show presentation was styled as “A Proposal for the increase in convictions… ”. If this was the sole aim of the project, then there was a possibility that overarching issues relating to available institutional infrastructure and justice would be overlooked.

An immediate suggestion by the church could be that a case could easily be made that there was room for more education as much as for draconian sentencing (in an environment of “draconian” rather than “just” sentencing, there will be much room for vindictiveness and abuse).

6. The attention of the Minister was brought to the fact that backward and forward linkages to mandatory treatment for both the perpetuator and victim leaded to considerations of proper staffing of the Ministry with qualified psychiatric staff, distinct from the “social workers” that were currently charged with evaluating only the victim’s state of mind. While the Minister pleaded limited resources, the point was made that the Ministry’s work should begin with hiring competent staff, including qualified psychiatrists and Christian counsellors.

An immediate suggestion by the church could be that while the Ministry’s current outlook seemed to be that the best response was increasing the prison population dramatically and throwing way the keys, the mandate of the church inevitably meant a holistic approach that meant early detection of predisposition at home and schools, preventative counselling throughout the life-cycle of profiled perpetrators in workplaces and places of worship, as well as the buttress of punitive penalty. This point was entirely consistent with suggestions made by both Ms. Texiera and the Minister, and fell more logically within the Ministry’s portfolio than the intense punitive agenda apparently denoted in the document (the extent of that punitive agenda would become clear after a detailed study was done of the Consultation Paper).

7. The attention of the Minister was drawn to the fact that again arising out of the stated effort to emulate countries which have, under reform, raised their conviction rates from 4% to 60%, then the overall situation in Guyana might infer that an entire system was at fault and needed fixing.

An immediate response by the church could be to urge the answer to some important questions: Did the government have plans, for example, to build the additional prisons anticipated with a 60% or greater conviction rate. No answer was forthcoming from the Minister at the date of the one-off “consultation”. The Georgetown prison currently holds 1200 prisoners in a facility made for about 500, and is understaffed.

Noticeable in this consultation, and other news reports, are obvious attempts to discredit the Police Force as an important intermediary in investigation, prosecution and deterrence … illustrated in the Minister’s condescending remarks about “crappy” Police Force members (see newspaper reports), when the same comments could easily be levelled at the administration of the judiciary, the unfilled vacancies in the court system, the proliferation of acting appointments therein, and a notoriously lax court system, and the Minister’s own intransigence and indifference to the proliferation of video-pornography on the streets of Georgetown.

The GPF’s (countervailing?) views on the environmental influence on their organizational efficiency posed by the availability of pornography, joblessness, poverty, poor salaries, an oppressive tax regime and general economic deprivation are never aired at these sessions, and a climate of distrust is perhaps unwittingly being engendered against the police.

An immediate suggestion by the church could be a caution to the Minister that this continuous derogation of the GPF in the course of this effort at reform is short-sighted and counterproductive, and that the positive reinforcement of good investigative work by an underpaid, undermanned, under trained Police Force must be seen as much of a priority as getting High court convictions. A collaborative rather than confrontational approach should be encouraged.

9. The attention of the Minister was drawn to the fact that good law is based on good data. While the Minister in presentation used only one set of data from “a 2005 study”, what was not clear was the author, terms of reference and reliability of the study. There also appear to be numerous references to “studies show” and “research shows” in the Consultation Paper without citing specific sources.

An immediate suggestion by the church could be that meaningful consultation with as diverse a community as Guyana’s religious bodies needs more than 90 minutes.

10. The attention of the Minister was drawn to the need to establish a Men’s Affair Bureau to address the issues that men affect men in Guyana’s society … this especially given the male stereotyping typical of these proposed reforms . The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry advised that the aim was not to engender a climate of “them against us” and that the aim was a gender-neutral solution. The paradox here is that while nothing of the perpetrators profiled seemed gender neutral, the Ministry’s solution was seeking to be.

An immediate suggestion by the church could be that the Ministry consider with more diligence the issue of a Men’s Affair Bureau however conceptualized, and request persons to submit memoranda on how it should be constituted.

11. The attention of the Minister was drawn by a member of the religious community that he was a head of a home, and, having been exposed to Religious Education (RE), felt a severe disconnect with the debauchery and horror of the numerous tales of incest and molestation. Yet another point was made by a presenter that the horror situation described by the Minister in her presentation could in fact infer that Moral Education (ME) in schools had failed. For the Ministry to then offer that “many perpetrators know about religious education” was disingenuous, since if the increase of assaults could be traced to a time after the introduction of Moral Education, then there was a valid case for doing away with it. Another contributor suggested “Values Education”, but this is synonymous with ME.

An immediate suggestion by the church could be that the reintroduction of RE rather than ME in schools would be an immediate part of proposed reforms, since, as Ms. Texiera pointedly asserted, each of the three great religions’ texts denounce rape with some intensity. We should note that Christianity, in particular, has a clear system of values that begins with “Thou shalt not”, and this is revered as a code of conduct by millions.

Another immediate suggestion could be that the Ministry of Education provide data to show if there was a correlation between the time of the removal of religious education in schools and the increase in incidents of molestation, etc. Ideally, this study should be done by an independent body. Gross methodological and factual faults in previous studies immediately rule out the ERC as the author or facilitator of any such study.

12. The attention of the Minister was drawn to the fact that members of the religious community would support other measures in addition to increased jail time:

- Mandatory intervention via counselling and psychiatric help by the state in initial instances of abuse as reported by the Police.
- Strong parole system rather than enactment of “no possibility of parole” sentencing.
- Mandatory counselling for all parties.
- Severity of punishment for convictions related to rape.
- Re-examination of policy on bail
- Use of limited and extended restraining orders relative to homes and schools.
- Use of adult corporal punishment (whippings) as valid deterrents.

Roger Williams
January 24, 2008

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