A Bill that aims to redress the balance in favour of sex abuse victims has made an important step towards the statute book.
The Sexual Offences and Obscene Publications Bill was given its third reading in the Legislative Council.
It came after an amendment to remove a controversial provision on automatic anonymity for suspects was withdrawn at the last minute.
But it was a question raised by the MLC who tabled and then withdrew that amendment that is likely to prove more contentious still, especially given the Bill’s stated aims.
Suggesting consideration of a permanent ban on naming sex offenders, Kerry Sharpe asked: ’If we were kinder to abusers - if as a society we could forgive sexual offenders - would it mean they would not go on to abuse more people?’
Mrs Sharpe had tabled amendments that would have removed from the Bill controversial clause 140 which provides for automatic anonymity for suspects and defendants in sex cases until conviction.
Instead, she suggested substituting it with a clause that provides anonymity only on request to the Deemster by the prosecution or defence.
But she withdrew them at the third reading, saying she was doing so because they did not have the support of the House of Keys or of sufficient numbers of colleagues in Legislative Council.
She listed her concerns - that the public was never consulted on the automatic anonymity provision, that it would restrict press freedom and that it might prevent further victims and witnesses coming forward.
She said the law would be out of kilter with that of the UK. While the media across would be allowed to publish the names of rape case defendants, the Manx media would not - and this could lead to accusations that the government was ’trying to hush things up’, she said.
Mrs Sharpe acknowledged that it must be ’unimaginably awful to be wrongly accused of sexual crime even if you were eventually found not guilty because your reputation would be forever tarnished’.
The Sexual Offences and Obscene Publications Bill updates a series of laws and brings in new provisions covering for example crimes of ’upskirting’, revenge porn and conversion therapy.
Moving the Bill, Tanya August-Hanson said it would redress a power imbalance between victims of abuse and those who commit these offences.
She said she was moving it on behalf of every victim who had been ’failed by our system in the last 28 years who we have neglected to protect’.
Mrs Sharpe said she had spoken to Douglas East MHK Clare Barber who described how difficult it is for people who have sexually offended to be rehabilitated as everyone knows what they have done.
The MLC said: ’Sexual offenders feel they will never be given a second chance to reform. I began to wonder whether if the identity of sexual offenders was never revealed - although I don’t know how you would keep it a secret - would more be successfully rehabilitated?
’In other words, if we were kinder to abusers, I suppose ultimately what I mean is if as a society we could forgive sexual offenders, would it mean they would not go on to abuse more people?
’And because most abusers have themselves been abused, eventually would the number of sexual offences committed in our society diminish? I don’t know the answers to these questions but I feel discussion is needed.’
She said she had spoken to another Douglas East MHK Chris Robertshaw who believes that no defendant of any crime at all should have their identity revealed in the traditional or social media unless proven guilty.
Fellow MLCs said Mrs Sharpe had made the right decision in withdrawing her amendments and agreed that there should be a wider policy debate on naming defendants.
MLCs approved another amendment that the maximum penalty for sexual communication with a child, another new offence in the Bill, should rise from two to five years.
LegCo unanimously gave the Bill its third reading. It will now go to the Keys to look at MLCs’ amendments.
Mrs Sharpe insisted that she was merely presenting the counter argument and putting a 'more moral, rhetorical question'.
'I was not saying as an instruction to the Manx public "be kinder to sex offenders". Of course I was not saying that,' she told MTTV.
She described clause 140 as a 'big mistake'. 'This clause should not be going through,' she said.
You can read a full transcript of the LegCo sitting here: