Sat, Apr 09, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Protecting women and children

By Sandy Yeh 葉毓蘭

Last year there were several cases in Taiwan in which individuals convicted of sexually abusing children received what were widely considered to be excessively light sentences. This led to the “White Rose” movement, which was launched on Facebook and eventually brought the issue to the attention of the president and the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

One result was the introduction of certain legal amendments. Another was that the movement shed light on the extent of the abuse to which women and children are subjected in Taiwan. It was only then that the public woke up to just how inadequate our social resources are when it comes to dealing with this issue.

Sexual offender Lin Kuo-cheng (林國政) was recently released after serving eight years of a prison term and has since allegedly confessed to the rape and murder of a 13-year-old junior-high school student in Yunlin County. It was only through this tragic incident that the public was made aware that the new rules on the electronic tagging and involuntary treatment of sex offenders does not apply to individuals such as Lin who have served their sentences and whose crimes were committed prior to the passage of these legal amendments.

Irrespective of how high the risk of reoffending, society is powerless to keep such sex offenders permanently off the streets — unless of course they are executed.

After the Yunlin County commissioner apologized and promised that those responsible would be disciplined, some people thought that what happened was the result of a few careless mistakes by the Yunlin County Government or civil servants at the Ministry of Justice. Anyone who came to such a convenient conclusion needs to think again.

In 2005, Taiwan passed legislation on registration, reporting and consultations for sex offenders, but because of fierce opposition from human rights groups it fell far short of what women’s groups had hoped for. What they wanted was something like Megan’s Law in the US, laws requiring public access to information on registered sex offenders.

The diluted version of the legislation applied only to a minority of offenders, who were only required to be registered for seven years. The register was not made available to the public: Only schools and children’s welfare groups were allowed access, and even then only with the prior consent of the sex offender.

As a result of these constraints, in the six years since the legislation was passed, only a handful of inquiries on sexual offenders have been made to the police. Clearly, these regulations have had limited effect in controlling sex offenders.

After the Sexual Assault Crime Prevention Act (性侵害犯罪防治法) was passed in 1997, prevention centers were set up in many counties and cities, and special women and Children’s protection divisions were established in local police precincts. The problem is how sex offenders released from prison or on parole can be effectively monitored and given counseling in the long term, when social workers and female police officers have their hands tied as a result of severe budgetary constraints.

The provision of involuntary post-prison release treatment is also problematic, given that no sooner has the ministry identified a suitable location, than local residents protest and prevent it from being set up in their back yard.

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