Prime Minister The Rt. Hon. Hubert Ingraham came out swinging noting his disgust of sexual crimes, which have occurred across the country against children. He also informed the Parliament that for the first time a senior public servant will be retired for “his involvement in sexual harassment” committed against a civil servant.
Ingraham made the announcement as he rapped up debate on the appointment of a select committee to investigate incidents of sexual crimes at the Eight Mile Rock High School. Ingraham asked how could principals at the EMRH School gave a teacher [Andre Birbal] good reviews every year. “How could that happen?” he questioned.
Ingraham also pointed out that since 2001 some 15 teachers have been withdrawn from classrooms after being accused of sexual crimes against students. He pointed that some 4 of these cases are still unresolved, and that all of these persons are still being paid by the government.
Ingraham also noted that to many people are unwilling to speak about these crimes. “That too is a crime!” Ingraham said. He concluded that officials who knew what happened at EMRH School will be dealt not long from now, and assured that the select committee appointed will be supported by the government.
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Contribution to Debate on a Resolution for the Appointment of a Select Committee to Examine Allegations of Sexual Abuse at the Eight Mile Rock High School and Procedures of the Ministry of Education by Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Hubert Ingraham:
THE PRIME MINISTER: Mr. Speaker,
I am pleased to add my support for the motion to appoint a Select Committee to review all matters connected with the allegations of sexual molestation by a former teacher at the Eight Mile Rock High School.
I would have also been pleased to support the motion if it had been proposed to review allegations of sexual molestation in schools in The Bahamas period; or if the terms of reference were limited to public schools.
We have a bad record about Select Committees in the House. They almost uniformly never report and they really come about because Members choose to have a debate or discussion. There may be one or two meetings of a Committee and then nobody hears anything about it afterward.
I hope that is not the fate of this Committee; I hope that it will work and will make a report and some recommendations.
But notwithstanding that – whether it makes a report, whether it works or not is not relevant to the point I now make: today has caused light to be shone on an issue that afflicts and affects our society, and as a consequence of the debate today, many changes will take place in the public school system of The Bahamas.
Sexual molestation is nothing short of reprehensible and criminal. The case with which this Resolution is concerned is very serious and I regret that Members Opposite have sought by their rhetoric here and in the media, to reduce this serious matter to an opportunity for scoring political points. I assure all, there are no political points to be made here or elsewhere in exposing and dealing with sexual perverts who prey upon helpless children.
The allegation of molestation in this case occurred at a time when Members Opposite formed the Government. The earliest complaints on the matter were brought to the attention of a very senior person in the Ministry of Education in 2006, seemingly without result.
The allegations received the attention of the Ministry of Education following my Government’s election to office in May 2007. Still, the alleged culprit departed the country before the conclusion of the investigation of the allegation by the police and before any charge was laid.
Regrettably, this will not have been the first case of inappropriate contact between a teacher and a student in a government-operated school. There are a number of outstanding allegations against some 15 public school teachers extending as far back as 2001, and as many as 4 such allegations are presently before the Courts; a few of which that have been before the Courts for quite sometime without resolution.
Notwithstanding our heightened attention to the danger now, it is possible that in the future some other student may be confronted by a devious teacher or other adult engaged at a school in which they are enrolled.
We cannot try the Eight Mile Rock case in this place.
What we can do is examine the procedures in place designed to deal with these matters; procedures meant to prevent the action, and procedures meant to assist to remedy the situation when prevention fails. And, we can take careful, well thought out steps to improve upon them.
We all recognize and acknowledge that notwithstanding procedures and safeguards, failures have occurred in the past and we have no assurance that they will not occur again at some time in the future.
The truth of the matter is that too many people find allegations such as the one made against the teacher at Eight Mile Rock High School uncomfortable, impolite or inappropriate for public commentary – shove it under the carpet; don’t talk about it, maybe it will just go away.
Under the misguided pretext of protecting their children or not exposing them to ridicule or mockery, some parents and guardians fail to report suspected sexual abuse of their children to the authorities, or they report the suspected abuse but refuse to permit their children to testify against an abuser or instruct that their child’s identity must not be revealed.
And, some people too readily assume that allegations of sexual abuse are fabrications – especially when made against someone held in high esteem in the community, such as a teacher, preacher or MP.
We know where that attitude got the Roman Catholic Church in the United States when applied to allegations of molestation by priests. Leopards don’t change their spots. Social problems and social crimes won’t go away because we find them uncomfortable to talk about or if we shift the problem from one location to another as has happened too often in The Bahamas.
I listened to the Member from Englerston this morning when she claimed that action was being taken now only because of intense public pressure. That is not so. Let me say that I do not believe that there is enough public outrage about sexual abuse and sexual crime in our country – not just regarding allegations of abuse in our schools but in our homes and in our communities. And it is that that we must commit ourselves to change!
How is it that a 62 year old man can go to court in The Bahamas on April 15, admit to having engaged in sexual intercourse with a five year old and be convicted and sentenced to 3 years in prison? Where is the outrage? Where is the outrage that our country has one of the highest rates of rape in our Hemisphere?
So, we have much work to do.
There is far too much shifting of problems in the public sector of The Bahamas.
Shifting and transfers is how we have traditionally dealt with problem employees in the public sector whether it is a drunkard in the school system, or indeed elsewhere in the Public Service, or an employee suffering from a mental disorder or perversion; – transfer them to a new school, department or unit in the hope that a new environment will make them shape-up. The 15 teachers I spoke of just now are virtually all still employed by the Government.
Finally, action is being taken. For example, a senior public officer was recently called upon to retire from the Service for acts of sexual harassment of an employee.
Finally, the shifting and or redeployment of teachers accused of sexual crimes against children in our schools is also going to end.
And, where evidence exists, I expect criminal charges to be laid against teachers who molest children. Where there is insufficient evidence to support criminal charges disciplinary action is and will be taken against such persons. They have no place in our schools.
We have to ask ourselves some hard questions.
In the Eight Mile Rock case – was there ever a suspicion that this teacher may have had a problem with boundaries between himself and his students early in his career in The Bahamas?
How is it that a teacher, thought now to be a molester, operated in our school system since 1988? Quite the opposite, his file, I am told, records that he was well regarded notwithstanding the allegation made against him in 2006.
Are there other victims of this teacher or of others?
From what I have been told, from what I have read, there most probably are, on both counts.
Some people find the attachment of homosexuality to the allegation titillating and concentrate their attention only on that aspect of what is being reported. But surely, we know that most sexual molestations involve heterosexuals. We cannot be willing to excuse this inappropriate behaviour when it involves a male teacher and a female student or a female teacher and a male student.
Some people are concentrating their anger on the fact that the allegation is made against a foreign teacher as if his ‘foreignness’ is the culprit and the reason for his ‘escape’. But we know that foreignness had nothing to do with the allegation. We know that some Bahamians accused of crime, escape abroad to avoid detection and or the consequences of their action.
I have been told and seen reports to the effect that the molestation in question took place over a number of years – from the 7th grade.
Did no one notice a change in the behaviour of the child? Was anyone interested – at school, in church, in the community, at home?
Molested children almost always act out, become withdrawn, or signal in some way that something in their lives has changed and they don’t know how to deal with it. Was anyone listening? What can we do to ensure that at least, in our schools, someone is watching and someone is listening?
Information now suggests that in this case a change in behaviour was noticed; however, little and certainly not enough was done about it.
It is important that we look at this very serious matter for what it is – devoid of all the distracting adjectives – foreign, homosexual; and let’s stop pontificating about what happened on whose watch.
This is an allegation of abuse; abuse by an individual placed in a position of authority over minor children.
We are all aware that sexual molestation is a crime. Sexual contact between an adult and a minor is a criminal act. Using ones position of authority to demand or win sexual favours from a subordinate, a dependant or from anyone left in your care or custody is a crime. When the sexual favour is extracted from a minor child (student) left in the care of the offending adult (teacher) the act is even more odious.
We also know that we have a legal obligation under the law – the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act – to report suspicions of abuse of children.
A lot of abuse was heaped upon the Minister of Education this morning and before. But what about those who knew? No, we are not interested in talking about them; we are interested in trying to find a politician to blame.
The Ministry of Education has had in place a number of administrative procedures to provide guidance in relation to dealing with allegations of inappropriate teacher/student relations. They have proven, in this case and in other cases, to be insufficient and inadequate in this case and in a number of other cases.
With immediate effect specific reforms meant to better govern official responses to allegations of improper teacher/student relationships have been put in place in our school system. The Minister of Education has elaborated on these in his contribution.
The reforms are meant to provide comfort to students that any allegation made by them will be taken seriously, that they will be investigated and culprits will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Studies internationally indicate that some victims of sexual molestation, particularly children and adolescents, never overcome the insecurity and fear that result from abuse. So marred are some of these individuals that they are unable to fulfil their life goals or to lead productive, happy lives.
I believe that it was not appropriate for many officials in Grand Bahama involved in Education to have not acted differently; regard being had to the information which they seemed to have had access to quite some time ago.
This extends to a good number of people who were in positions of authority in Grand Bahama who could have, should have, ought to have acted differently.
No one should be surprised therefore, when appropriate action is taken in respect of such persons not long from now.
From our point of view, we are happy to cooperate fully with any investigation in connection with this matter or any matter in any public school.
The reality is that the Government is only one part of the issue; there are many other parts. One of those parts is parents. There are far, far too many cases in this country where persons know that children are being sexually molested or abused, and people in parental situations are unwilling to talk, unwilling to speak.
It is my hope that the Police and others in the society will begin to activate the provisions in the law that makes it a crime to not report what they know.
We have many laws on the books, but no one has ever dared to go to a parent and say, “you knew this boy was being molested, you told us he was being molested and you did nothing about it; you refused to go to the police; when the police came to you and you refused to provide information – you have committed a crime therefore and you are going to be charged in court and dealt with in accordance with the law.”
Also Mr. Speaker, the current position with respect to these Summary offences; these offences that are tried by the Magistrates Court where it must be tried within a six month period from the commission of the offence, is another matter we must look at in terms of amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code when it comes down to molestation of children.
We ought not need an Attorney General’s fiat; the Police ought to be able to do so.
Better information ought to be provided to all persons in the public school system, especially those in Administration, as to what their duty and obligations are: to report these matters to the police, Social Services and the Ministry; and not to ever have what happened here at the Eight Mile Rock High School again where things were shuffled around, known by quite a few people; no action taken.
The Minister of Education gets appointed in May of 2007, the young man involved leaves school in June 2007, talks about being molested after he leaves school and we blame the Minister of Education in Nassau for it, when the report had been made to Education in 2006 to a very senior official in the Education establishment.
I assure the Committee that there is an abundance of evidence that can be made available to you from which you can draw your own conclusions.
My conclusion is that there was a disconnect between Education’s bureaucracy in Grand Bahama and Education’s establishment in Nassau, and that what was known in Grand Bahama was not known in Nassau at an appropriate, early time and date.
The Government will support the Committee and the Government will cooperate with the Committee.