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Liberty Belle: Saving Kids From Sexual Predators

Deborah Coddington's Liberty Belle

Saving Kids From Sexual Predators

In 1996 when US President Bill Clinton signed in Megan's Law he said: 'We respect people's rights, but there is no right greater than a parent's right to raise a child in safety and love. That's why the law should follow those who prey on children wherever they go, state to state, town to town.'

Last night my Sex Offenders Registry Bill was voted to select committee. Not one party opposed the Bill, though the Green Party indicated it would not support the Registry becoming law. My Bill is not the same as Megan's Law, in that offenders' details won't be available to the general public, but it echoes the sentiments expressed by Bill Clinton.

The vote in favour of this Bill is, I believe, a vote in favour of a shift away from the failed policies of the past 30 years where it was thought if you just be nice to criminals, they will behave themselves.

This has led to criminals being treated as victims, and real victims having their true rights - to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - crushed.

My Liberty Belle this week is an extract of my speech to the House last night when I introduced the Bill:

"Mr Speaker nearly 10 years ago, as a journalist, I stumbled into an area of crime about which I had very little knowledge.

It was a crime that was protected by a cone of silence. It was criminal offending which, if it occurred on the other side of the world, like Belgium, where little girls were locked in a basement for days to be sexually abused and die, the newspapers here would be filled with horrifying reports and photographs.

But it was criminal offending which, if it happened next door in New Zealand suburbia, we turned out heads the other way and didn't want to know.

When you read in the paper today, the name of someone convicted of indecent assault on young children, do you expect to remember that person's name in three or four years' time?

Sex offenders aren't just grubby old men in raincoats loitering in parks around the swings and slides. They're in scout and cub groups; they're church leaders or school teachers; they're Justices of the Peace - pillars of the community; they organise youth groups and take children away on camps; they join computer clubs and take young members home on the pretext of playing computer games. They know where to find young children who are vulnerable, often lonely, too trusting.

I did further research and discovered that rapists, not just paedophiles, were repeat offenders too, and were getting off far too lightly with ridiculous sentences, then being let loose on an unsuspecting community.

I couldn't let this matter rest and decided I had a book in itself, and published the 1996 Paedophile & Sex Offender Index.

Naively I thought I'd get a few snotty reviews from civil liberties. I had no inkling of the torrent of abuse that would descend on me from almost every newspaper editor, journalist, commentator, academic, the Ministry of Justice, politicians - all the bien pensant chattering class brigade who believe if we just be nice to criminals, they'll behave themselves and stop offending.

It is this attitude that has allowed paedophiles, rapists and sexual molesters to carry on with their behaviour with little fear of being caught.

If someone wants to take out a mortgage, buy something on hire purchase, or borrow money, they have to submit to a credit check to make sure they can be trusted with other people's money. Every day, Baycorp runs about 15,000 such checks through its system.

Why couldn't we have such a system for those who want to be trusted with other people's children?

When Kate Alkema was murdered on the Hutt riverbank the police investigating the crime said something like 60 sex attacks had occurred in that area in the past two years.

Now if 60 swimmers had gotten into difficulty at a beach in a two-year time span there would be signs everywhere warning of the dangerous tidal rips.

Why can't we give women information about sex offences so they can try and keep themselves safe?

If you knew that a repeat, dangerous offender like Taffy Hotene had been released on parole in your neighbourhood, would you let your young daughter walk home in the dark from the bus stop?

Kylie Jones' family in Auckland wasn't allowed this information, because Taffy Hotene's right to privacy was considered more important than Kylie Jones' right to life.

Mr Speaker I believe this is legislation whose time has come. The climate has changed considerably since I published my book in 1996. I believe the New Zealand public is ready for this law."

Here's hoping this Bill progresses smoothly through the rest of the democratic process and we join the UK, Ontario and states of Australia in legislating to protect the community from repeat sex offenders.

Yours in liberty,
Deborah Coddington.

- Liberty Belle is a column from Deborah Coddington, Member of Parliament for ACT New Zealand.

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