This week, I am sharing with you a survey to look at parking and parking fees on college and university campi around the world. It is conducted for the Union of Tertiary Educators of The Bahamas (UTEB). Please participate, especially if you are on a campus that is not in the Bahamas; and, please, feel free to share this survey with other students, staff and faculty that you may know. It is only fifteen questions and should take no more than five minutes. Thank you.
The following statement was drafted by faculty of the College of The Bahamas, and shared with Governor-General Sir Arthur Foulkes during a courtesy call at Government House on Monday, 11th November, 2013.
The School of Social Sciences at the College of The Bahamas proposes to host a series of community-based town meetings and special events geared towards increasing community and national awareness of some of the issues germane to enslavement, emancipation, colonialism and in recent times the nation-building project on the African continent.
The timing of these events is not a coincidence. Rather it reflects a growing consciousness amongst scholars, activists and grass-roots leaders throughout the Caribbean and African Diaspora who are now voicing their concerns about the irrevocable damage that slavery has done to the region. As recently as July 2013 CARICOM Heads met in Trinidad and agreed to the establishment of a National Reparations Committee in each member state. Though a new and unprecedented strategic position for CARICOM, reparation as a concept has a much longer history. As Verene Shepherd has noted “the calls for reparation for genocide have intensified since the World Conference on Racism held in Durban, South Africa in 2001. Such calls were also re-echoed during March 2007–March 2008, the bicentennial of the passing in Britain of the Slave Trade Abolition Act.”
Yet, long before scholars and academicians championed the cause of reparations, it has been the clarion call of the members of the Rastafarian community, who have also insisted that repatriation is an essential aspect of reparation. Noteworthy, in 1961, the Rastafari Brethren of Jamaica petitioned Queen Elizabeth. According to the Rastafarian petitioning Queen Elizabeth was only fitting given the historic legacy of the British monarchy and their direct involvement in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade as shareholders in the Royal African Company.
Public debate about the efficacy of reparation is important given the far ranging impact that colonialism and enslavement has had on the region’s development. As Eric Williams so forcefully argued in his seminal study Capitalism and Slavery, profits from Britain’s participation in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade not only fuelled the growth of British industrialisation and economic development, but this occurred at the expense of the neglected and under-developed Caribbean territories where enslaved persons laboured.
The enslavement of Africans had a debilitating affect on Caribbean societies – both plantation and non-plantation – that lasted long after the formal institution was abolished. As Howard Johnson and others have noted, systems of coercion, debt peonage, labour tenancy and sharecropping featured prominently in The Bahamas and other Caribbean territories long after abolition in 1834 in the British Caribbean, 1848 in the French Caribbean, and 1886 in Cuba. The total neglect of the social, economic and human capital needs of the region is a deep wound inflected by the dual legacies of colonialism and slavery that has not been healed.
Those in favour of reparations have assertively argued that slavery represents a crime against humanity and thus requires adequate and immediate reparation. The national chair of Jamaica’s reparation committee, Verene Shepherd, has noted that the cause of reparations does not exist without legal precedence. She cites three specific cases: the payment to Jews as a result of the Holocaust; the 1825 agreement whereby Haiti was asked (forced) to pay France 150 million gold francs in exchange for France’s recognition of Haiti as a sovereign nation; and finally in 1834 when the British government paid enslavers over £20 million as compensation for the loss of their labour, equivalent to £2 billion today.
Though the case for reparations is strong, it is not without its complexities and complications. For one, unlike most legal cases where there are identifiable plaintiffs and defendants, the case for reparations extends beyond the living individual, engulfing possibly communities and former colonies and imperial centres. The difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that within particular island territories there may be individuals or even families who both profited from, or were victims of enslavement. On a more philosophical point, it may be argued that current governments cannot be held responsible for the activities of governments of the slavery era. As Shepherd has noted, opponents of reparations argue that the sense that slavery was a crime against humanity is a modern concept, foreign to those who participated in it, and who accepted it as a prevailing and normative custom at the time.
Yet, a closer examination of the Age of Revolutions demonstrates that many Enlightenment thinkers and anti-slavery advocates understood that enslavement violated the natural laws of man. “Enlightened” men such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Voltaire and Jean-Jacque Rousseau understood that slavery was not only inimical to a civilised society, but also violated basic natural and inalienable rights. While white Europeans and their contemporaries in North America may have equivocated on the issue of whether “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Hapiness” ought to be fully extended to those considered chattel, black abolitionists throughout the Atlantic world undoubtedly demanded freedom at any cost. In Richmond, Virginia, Gabriel Prosser famously inverted Patrick Henry’s revolutionary slogan demanding “Death or Liberty.” Further North, Richard Allen founded an autonomous black church in order that his people might be free from the controlling influences of leading white churchmen of the Baptist or Methodist persuasion. In Boston, Prince Hall founded the Black Masonic Lodge, providing an important social and proto-religious institution that supported a growing free black community. In Connecticut, Lemuel Haynes, a free black preacher and former patriot soldier wrote an unpublished manuscript advancing the view that the liberties that Thomas Jefferson so eloquently penned, should be extended to all men of property.
But it was in the Caribbean, on plantations in the sugar islands and the scattered rocky isles of the Bahama Islands that black abolitionism struck its mightiest blow against the cruelty and inhumanity of slavery. Pompey defiantly resisted before leading his followers to Nassau to have his case heard before an allegedly sympathetic governor. Toussaint Louverture chose a more violent course, famously taking up arms to fight for freedom and justice in a revolution that was unthinkable for its time. These daring exploits on the part of black abolitionists, and their sometimes reluctant white sympathisers, demonstrate that they recognised slavery was a crime against humanity.
In the end, we at the College of The Bahamas seek to raise awareness of the complex issues associated with reparations while also examining more deeply and closely some of the traditional assumptions about slavery in The Bahamas that have not been questioned. As such, through various fora, we intend to engage the Bahamian public about our past, challenging, complicating and questioning pre-existing narratives that may have unwittingly glossed over the multifaceted struggles that enslaved persons experienced in a non-plantation, slave-holding society. We also intend to explore the veracity of elements of bondage – the subtle and explicit intersecting constructions of race, class and gender that remain spectres in Bahamian society. The initial launch of events planned for 2014 is a video entitled Traces of the Trade, which highlights the cruel and degrading nature of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. This event is scheduled for January 9th (the eve of our first national holiday commemorating Majority Rule) at St. Mark’s Native Baptist Church in Fox Hill. Subsequent events include a Spring 2014 roundtable discussion at the College of The Bahamas’ Oakes Field Campus and possibly a distinguished lecture series.
(Paper presented at the conference, “The Bahamas at Forty: Reflecting on the Past, Envisioning the Future,” hosted by the College of The Bahamas’ School of Social Sciences, 12th-14th June, 2013.)
Originally, this paper was supposed to be entitled, “‘A Prime Minister Who Listens’: An Examination of Social Media and the Public Discourse Surrounding the Referendum on Gambling in the Bahamas,” because when Bahamian Prime Minister Christie announced that the referendum on gambling would be postponed from 3rd December, 2012, to 28th January, 2013, he did so stating that he was “a Prime Minister who listens” referring to the wide array of criticism that the government’s plans had been met with from various sectors of Bahamian society. In this paper, I sought to explore if – or how – public commentary on this issue on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook may have influenced this debate, if its users were, perhaps, ahead of traditional media, ahead of the official opposition, and ahead of other interest groups chiming in on the issue.
During the so-called Arab Spring, mass media pundits were quick to dub these movements Facebook or Twitter Revolutions. However, academic researchers have since shown that, while these platforms played an important role in getting information about these events to the outside world, more confidential and easily accessible communication channels, such as text messaging, were far more important in coordinating the protests inside affected Arab countries. (1) The trend to credit social media with fuelling protest movements in the Islamic world can currently be witnessed again in Turkey, however, unlike in the countries of northern Africa, Internet access is widespread in Turkey, and 81% of Turkish Internet users have at least one social media account.
In the Bahamas, compared to most of the Arab world, Internet access is comparatively affordable and readily available, and fear of criminal prosecution for voicing one’s opinion is far less prevalent, albeit growing. Can social media, in such a setting, widen the base of participants in the political process and deepen democracy?
Originally, this paper was to look at a select number of Facebook groups, as well as the Twitter feeds of a cross section of Bahamian users of the platform that can, in social media terms to be adapted to the Bahamian context, be considered influential without being traditionally influential. It will attempt to highlight emerging patterns of how ideas can now be born in the virtual sphere and find their way into the conversation of the traditional political and media elite.
However, over the past few months, there were several important changes in the social media landscape of the Bahamas, which I will outline first, as they affect the approach taken to the paper – and, I trust, explain its new title. Regarding Facebook, the most important development impacting this study is that of the three major groups in which Bahamians like to discuss politics online, only one remains public: Crossfire. Crossfire, however, is known for its explicit PLP bias, so it may not be a very useful case study.
Not being able to conduct a more in-depth analysis of the discussion that took place on Facebook is disappointing, because Facebook is currently the most influential social media platform in the Bahamas; in September 2012, there were 165,820 Facebook users in the country, which in June of the same year had a little less than 236,000 Internet users; the 2010 census counted 234,744 individuals in the 15-64 year age range. A further demographic breakdown of Bahamian Facebook users is interesting, because it demonstrates that, contrary to popular belief, Facebook is a platform appealing primarily to the adult population. In fact, recent figures from the United States and western Europe indicate a decline amongst Facebook users aged 34 years and younger in those countries.
One of the non-public Facebook groups in which political matters are being discussed encompasses more than 15,000 members, a number close to ten percent of the 165.922 persons registered to vote during last year’s general election. Given these membership numbers, the level of confidentiality suggested by such groups’ non-public status may be questionable, but their privacy settings must be respected, and as such, a detailed analysis of the discussion within such a group would require the explicit permissions of every poster. In the framework of this paper, attempting to get permission from such a vast number of individuals did not seem feasible.
However, an exploration of the causes that lead to two of these groups switching to non-public can nonetheless be very informative, because it immediately points to some other developments and discussions that the country has witnessed over the past few months:
On 4th April, 2013, Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade announced that certain posts on social media platforms could trigger legal action against users. The Tribune quotes Greenslade saying, “I send a clear message to all and sundry: have your fun on social media, send your messages to your friends; but this issue of posting lewd pictures of people, obscene pictures of people – whether they are alive or dead or injured – is an area that’s going to get you into grave problems.” And: “I sound that clarion call this morning and I demonstrate by action, how serious I am about that. I am prepared to speak to it again and again, until that message is clear. If you post on Facebook or any other social media anything that is contrary to law, that is obscene or indecent, and it infringes upon the rights of any other citizen, this commissioner and all members of the RBPF – I daresay all of us in public safety – are going to take action because we have a problem with that. We are not going to ignore it.”
While these statements alone seem perfectly reasonable, it is the interpretation of what is acceptable or not that has the potential to intimidate Bahamian social media users, because Greenslade did not make these statements in a purely hypothetical scenario, but made them to explain action taken by the Royal Bahamas Police Force against Rodney Moncur, a Justice of the Peace, former DNA candidate and self-proclaimed community activist who allegedly posted pictures on Facebook showing police brutality. One picture, or set of pictures, allegedly showed the bruised backside of a man who claims to have been beaten by police; the other picture, or set of pictures, allegedly shows the corpse of a man who died in police custody.
In light of the accusations against Moncur, Greenslade’s warning ought to have been clearer, for questions remain as to the precise nature of Moncur’s infraction or infractions. Were the pictures themselves lewd, obscene or indecent? Was it that they made allegations against the police that had not yet been proven in a court of law? Was it that at least the picture of the corpse was allegedly obtained without authorisation?
In the past, Moncur has alienated many Bahamians through his arguably misogynistic rants on Facebook and Twitter, but nonetheless many of those that he has alienated came to his support, and one Tribune editor tried to start an online conversation to discuss the state of free speech and freedom of the press using the hashtag #FreeSpeech242. (2)
On 19th April, 2013, the Nassau Guardian reported that the Office of the Attorney General is working on legislation that would police information posted on the Internet. In the article, Attorney General Allison Maynard-Gibson is quoted as saying, “We have to balance freedom of the press with protecting the public.”
A few days later, on 29th April, 2013, an opinion piece by Philip C. Galanis, coordinator of the Vote Yes campaign and associated with the governing party, originally published in August 2012 was reprinted in the Nassau Guardian, seemingly at the request of Galanis, in which he identifies several groups as “enemies of the state.”
Galanis writes, “Every day, enemies of the state perpetuate this ignorance and misinformation in our media and on the various blogs and social media sites. Sometimes it does not involve lying, but rather contorting the truth or omitting all the facts. Sometimes this is caused by ignorance of the exact facts, exacerbated by laziness in pursuing those facts to their source in order to glean the actual, seminal truth of the situation. Sometimes this is caused by agendas that exist deep within our so-called balanced media practitioners. It is those hidden agendas that cause things to be presented to an unsuspecting and trusting public in ways that cleverly erode and undermine the beneficial policies of the state. It is those agendas that cause information to be imparted in an insidiously slanted and unbalanced way in order to please and promote one side over another. Those who do this are clearly enemies of the state. The blogs and social media sites that impart their versions of the truth oftentimes are perceived as purveyors of the truth instead of what they really are: disseminators of self-serving rhetoric, often driven by purely political motivation and/or mischief. The individuals behind these sites are determined and committed, and their sometimes vile and always hard-hitting tone is crafted to destabilize belief systems, damage reputations and call motives into question. These are not places to find truth and concern for the welfare of the state. Therefore, these places, the bitter blogs and the poisonous social media sites, can also sometimes become enemies of the state. Nothing is more important to a healthy democracy than an informed electorate that is ever vigilant about these enemies that seek to undermine our state. Whenever they raise their ugly faces, we must be ready to stop them.”
While some of Galanis’ observations may fittingly describe some of the commentators in our present-day Bahamas, there are certain key phrases that should have journalists, bloggers and other social media users concerned, especially the premise that regards policies of the state as beneficial by definition and thus off-limits to criticism, and the notion that dissenters must be silenced, rather than argued with – or against – in the arena of public debate. For example, two currently influential examples of commentators that utilise an approach mixing social media, blogs and – to an extent – traditional media are “Bahamas Press,” known for its PLP bias, and “According to Me: Sharon T.” which is known for its FNM bias. Both are also known for preferring certain members of their respective parties over others. Both have – on occasion – raised interesting points which could have been valid contributions to a public discourse, but too often their credibility takes a hit when they lash out against the political opponent for no other reason than their party affiliation, or censor comments made on their posts, thus preventing discussion rather than fostering it. (3) However, regardless of one’s political affiliation and appreciation – or lack thereof – for these bloggers’ positions, the label of “enemy of the state,” which implies treasonous tendencies is inappropriate, and suggests that those who use it are uncomfortable with the notion of uncontrolled – and uncontrollable – free speech.
Switching the attention to Twitter now, where most accounts, and therefore most user contributions are public, we see the discussion being shaped by essentially the same dynamics as on Facebook, but due to the platform’s public nature, conversations often include different individuals, whereas on Facebook they are frequently limited to the proverbial usual suspects. For the purpose of this study, I have selected a handful of Bahamian Twitter accounts belonging to individuals who have chimed in on the matter of the gambling referendum held on 28th January, 2013, and who meet Berger’s and Strathearn’s definition of influence and/or exposure on the platform. (4)
One challenge I encountered while choosing which accounts to look at was that, without using third-party tools that require payment, one is quite limited in how far back one can access old tweets. Twitter itself proved insufficient, but a free service offered by www.twimemachine.com allowed me to go back approximately 3,200 tweets on the selected accounts. There was at least one account I would have liked to include, but its owner uses Twitter so much that even by going 3,200 tweets back into the past, I missed the time frame I was interested in, that is between Christie’s announcement of the referendum at the beginning of November 2012 and the actual day of the vote at the end of January 2013. Another criterion for this study was totally and utterly subject to my own personal bias: the users must – generally speaking – use the limited space of 140 characters available to them to compose coherent messages resembling some form of Standard English. I have, however, tried to include a spread in the selection, and ended up focussing on accounts that include representatives of the media, of academia, of the business sector, of the information technology sector, and of the blue collar working class.
With the help of Twimemachine.com, these accounts were searched for the following keywords: gambling, gaming, referendum, webshop and web shop (spelt as one word and two). Based on the observations made above, and from comparing the coverage provided by the Tribune and the Nassau Guardian to the online discourse, I offer the following three hypotheses:
While traditional media dictate the topics of discussions on social media to a large extent, these online conversations are often a step ahead of the discussion in traditional media, and can in fact fuel the arguments made in the political arena.
A self-sustaining social media discourse has not, or not yet, been achieved in the Bahamas, and online discussions fizzle out when the traditional media no longer provide a second arena for the same topic, even if the issue remains unresolved.
Social media discussion of current affairs in the Bahamas, to an extent, provides a level of analysis that is often lacking from our traditional news media.
Of course, these three points are interrelated. Much of it is probably true for the social media phenomenon worldwide, but arguably, the last point, where Bahamian social media users attempt to analyse developments in lieu of analysis by media professionals plays out differently. A COB student research project conducted last year, concluded that contrary to popular belief, newspaper reporting in the Bahamas shows little to no political bias, not necessarily because of a deliberate effort at neutrality, but because of a lack of analysis and the strong emphasis on stock phrases, stock expressions and quotes, (5) which are not put into context and do not trigger the reporter to ask further questions.
Many of the obvious pertinent questions regarding the January 2013 referendum were then first asked on social media sites, even before representatives of opposition parties then asked them in front of microphones. A few examples:
- What exactly did the report of the government’s UK-based consultants say that led the government from excluding the question about a national lottery from the referendum, despite the promise made in the PLP’s Charter for Governance?
After hesitating for a while, and denying the existence of a formal report, the government flew in a representative of the consultancy firm to explain his firm’s negative projection regarding a national lottery. Arguably, a consultant admitting that he has never seen the inside of a webshop did not manage to convince the opposition or the wider public, and the lottery question was subsequently added due to mounting popular pressure.
- Can the government legally hold a non-constitutional referendum?
Seemingly rushed and reacting, the government tabled legislation to make provisions for non-constitutional referenda. However, many observers were surprised when it became clear that the Christie administration was planning to have a non-binding vote on the gambling issue, henceforth causing many Bahamians to refer to the exercise as an opinion poll.
- Is it proper to ask voters their opinion on the regulation and taxation of webshops without asking about legalisation first?
First posed on Twitter immediately after the release of the referendum questions, DNA leader Branville McCartney prominently stressed this point, and prompted a response from Maynard-Gibson, in whose legal opinion the term regulation by definition automatically includes legalisation. This in turn sparked a brief online conversation on whether it should then not be regularisation instead of regulation, but seemingly the political sphere accepted the Attorney General’s position.
- Why is the question of discrimination against Bahamians residents in local casinos not being addressed?
Less than a week after the original announcement of the referendum, an online petition was launched demanding to include casino gambling on the ballot, arguably not for the sake of expanding Bahamians’ gambling habits, but to remove a law that many in the country see as discriminatory. While the petition itself attracted only 125 signatures in two weeks, opposition leader Hubert Minnis then asked this question repeatedly of the government, which was forced to respond that this would – probably – be addressed in the constitutional referendum pending the final report of the constitutional review commission. This response, too, sparked further online debate with many arguing that it would be best to remove the discrimination as soon as possible, i.e. now, and to then remove the exemption of gambling laws from being non-discriminatory later, i.e. after the final report of the commission. Especially, as was pointed out by social media users, an earlier commission had already recommended to allow Bahamians access to casinos – in 1967.
- How reliable were the numbers presented by the government and the Vote Yes campaign about webshops and their role in Bahamian economy? How were they arrived at?
This is an area that highlights how the online discourse quickly fizzles out if ignored by news media and politics, for neither representatives of the opposition nor representatives of traditional media questioned the numbers put forth by the Vote Yes campaign, or the numbers presented by the prime minister in parliament, despite their glaring discrepancies; for instance the alleged 4,000 jobs and the annual payroll of $15 million, which would have meant that a webshop employee earns a weekly salary of $72.12. The topic came up online, every so often, but never gained much traction.
- Should webshop gambling become legalised, or in the terminology of the referendum question, “regulated and taxed,” will webshop operators be made to pay backtaxes for years of profits they raked in outside of the scope of their business licences which supposedly merely allowed them to provide Internet access on their premises?
Like the question before, the financial implications of the referendum for webshops seemed to be off-limits to both the Bahamian media as well as politicians, regardless of whether representing the government or the opposition. However, both of these points prove that social media users were attempting to seriously discuss different aspects of the gambling referendum, whereas news media and politicians frequently contented themselves with talking points and catchphrases. Of course, even before the referendum, in fact before the 2012 general election, speculations were rife as to the influence that webshop money had on politics and the media and their lack of scrutiny regarding webshop operations.
- How much preparation time is needed to have a referendum on gambling?
As soon as the referendum was first announced at the beginning of November, to be held on 3rd December, 2012, voices could be heard that one month would not be sufficient time to educate voters on the matter, though I suspect “educate” may have been code for “campaign,” as this argument was most often used by people who admitted to having a horse in the race. In fact, I would also argue that of all the hot topics surrounding the gambling referendum, this was one barely resonating with individual social media users, and more frequently repeated on partisan platforms. It would appear that most social media users feel more comfortable about their level of awareness on national issues than many of the so-called leaders in the Bahamas are willing to give them credit for.
It were the first and last examples that ultimately had the most striking impact on how the referendum would unfold. Because a wide disapproval of the government’s handling of the process was so vocal and visible, Christie was forced to make major concessions: “I am a Prime Minister who listens, … and in listening to the still evolving public discourse on the forthcoming referendum it has become clear to me that more time is needed before the Bahamian people are called upon to vote. … Notwithstanding that initial advise, the government has decided that it would be in the interest of the broadening of democracy and consistent with its charter for governance to include a national lottery in the referendum question.”
Seeing the role that online discourse plays in overall Bahamian conversation, we conclude that, while it may at times constitute a vanguard, its influence remains limited and fickle. One possible explanation for this may be the lack of a critical mass of “nerds” to create a self-sustaining “online community” (6) to join the online conversation at any given time, to sustain it and to carry it further. What is true for Bahamian society in general, is in a paradoxical sense even truer of the Bahamian online community: it is a face-to-face society. When discussing politics online, you are always in dialogue with the same familiar users. While Bahamian social media use is heavily characterised by the use of aliases, it is not uncommon to piece together certain clues and feel pretty confident about a suspicion as to who may be behind a username.
Another reason may be people’s perception or interpretation of the function and purpose social media. A survey asking users why they used Facebook found that the wish to express political and/or social views ranks low – in fact last; light social interaction, entertainment and procrastination all rank much higher.
Unfortunately, I missed last week’s contribution to the budget debate by Fred Mitchell, Minister of Foreign Affairs, but was told that he elaborated on the influence social media has had on last year’s general election. When I wrote about the subject last year, I concluded that the PLP’s, FNM’s and DNA’s social media strategies all demonstrated “an insecurity about the medium, and an uncertainty in the approach.” Fan pages steered by party operatives were ineffective, but it appears that our political class has not become aware of this yet.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last week remarked, “There is now a threat called Twitter. … As far as I’m concerned, social media are the biggest threat to society.” We thus see a recurrent theme from Erdoğan to Galanis, and recognise that while social media does already have the power to effect some changes in the discourse and influence events to an extent, perhaps its biggest power right now is that it has put on alert all those politicians who confuse their structures of state power with society – or even democracy.
(1) Miriyam Aouragh and Anne Alexander. “The Egyptian Experience: Sense and Nonsense of the Internet Revolution.” in: International Journal of Communication 5 (2011): 1344-1358.
(2) The original hashtag was #FreedomOfSpeech242, but shortly after it was changed to #FreeSpeech242, which is shorter and thus better suited for use on Twitter due to the limit of 140 characters per message. Stephen Hunt (@chippychatty). “Commissioner Greenslade has warned about what people can post on social media. Share your views at #freedomofspeech242 – who has the say?” 4th April, 2013, 5:56pm. Tweet.
(3) Naturally, it is difficult to prove the existence of deleted posts. At this point, I can only offer my word that I myself have seen comments disappear merely for correcting factual background information, even if they did not attack the message of the rest of an article.
(4) J. M. Berger and Bill Strathearn. Who Matters Online: Measuring Influence, Evaluating Content and Countering Violent Extremism in Online Social Networks. London: The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, 2013.
(5) Rashad Rolle. Media Bias in Major Bahamian Newspapers. unpublished term paper at the College of The Bahamas (SOC 200, Social Research), Fall 2012. p. 16.
(6) The term loosely describes activists concerned about Internet accessibility and control, but is highly controversial, especially within the group it is supposed to describe. Sascha Lobo. “Unsere Muetter, unsere Fehler.” in: Sascha Lobo: Autor, Vortragsredner, Internet, 22nd March, 2013. http://saschalobo.com/2013/03/22/unsere-muetter-unsere-fehler/ (accessed 7th June, 2013); Ole Reissmann. “Leistungsschutzrecht: Versagensangst in der Netzgemeinde.” in: Spiegel Online, 25th March, 2013. http://www.spiegel.de/netzwelt/web/leistungsschutzrecht-versagensangst-in-der-netzgemeinde-a-890736.html (accessed 7th June, 2013).
This article is a contribution to the discussion about COB’s new fees written by Dr. Carlton Watson, Assistant Professor in the School of Mathematics, Physics & Technology at the College of the Bahamas.
1. COB and the Art of Selective Progressivism
People are saying, “Well, the students should expect to pay more.” The question is why? I guess ’cause that’s the new thing now – more fees. It is interesting that folks would make this statement without seeing COB’s financials. Is COB making a profit or loss? Or are we just breaking even. Who knows?? Why won’t admin make the books available to the public? Quick story: in 2008/2009 I started inquiring about how lab fees were being spent for the School of Sciences and Technology. I was basically told, “Don’t worry about that, you’re getting your fair share.” After many many requests I finally saw the figures. Come to find out less than 20% of the collected lab fees were actually being spent on lab equipment. The take away from this is I love my institution, but most COB administrations have not had a good track record when it comes to funds appropriation (to be clear, I’m not accusing anyone of stealing but of just not being concerned about basic accounting).
I have too many stories about COB’s bookkeeping to ever trust anyone on blind faith… nor should I have to. If the college wants to raise fees, it should justify in very clear terms how those fees will be spent. It should also give full financial reporting to those who pay those fees. Where did those numbers come from? Are they based on the president’s dream book? To me it is funny that the college now wants to be all progressive and university-like about charging these very specific fees (’cause I guess that’s how they do it in the “states”), but when it comes to being progressive and university-like in its transparency, accountability and reporting to its stakeholders, it has no problem falling perpetually short (can’t get away with that in the “states”).
So until COB can get a grip on this thing call basic accounting and appropriation I say NO NEW FEES. Until COB is willing to demonstrate that every single penny of the technology fee is being spent on technology for students… I say NO NEW FEES! Until COB is willing to demonstrate that every single penny of the student activity fee actually benefits students… I say NO NEW FEES!
2. Race To The Bottom – 242, We Gat Dis!
The major justification for the new fees is based on the decrease in government subvention. The question is, why is the government cutting the subvention? They say we’re really broke so we must cut back. We jus een gat it, they say. Really? Well this broke country’s government plans to spend $2.223 billion this year. Some of that money comes from taxes and revenues. Some of it comes from debt. By the way, students: guess who’s going to have to help pay off that I. O. U? Yup! Y. O. U. So the question then is not one of not having money to spend but prioritizing how we spend. How can we decide what is reasonable. There is no rule of thumb but it might be useful to get a feeling for what our neighbors are doing.
Based on our total expenditures, for every $100 OF OUR MONEY that the government spends $1.10 is allocated to direct funding of tertiary education in the Bahamas (not counting UWI). That number drops to under $0.90 if the subvention is cut. Is that enough? Who knows? I say no. What about Jamaica how much on tertiary education do they spend per $100 of government expenditure? $1.80. You mean Jamaica with all its high debt and interests on debt, etc prioritizes education (in monetary terms) 63% more than we do. WOW! How about Trinidad and Tobago? – $2.21 and Barbados? – $4.10 ! If how we spend money as a country is a true reflection of our priorities, then that means that tertiary education is 270% more important to the people of Barbados than it is to the Bahamian people.
In fact I suspect, we prioritize less money on education as a percentage of total expenditure than most countries in the region (so much for being a regional leader). What do you think is the long term position of a country that spends relatively less money on tertiary education than its neighbors? Not good!
In terms of expenditure on all education (K-12 + tertiary) the numbers don’t look much better either. And generally they get even worse when scaled by GDP or GDP per capita or GDP per capita per Student or GDP per capita per number house or any other kind of metric that you can dream up. The bottom line is, based on our spending habits, education is not important to us. It has never been.
So students the next time someone tells you about all that money government spends on education and how you should be grateful for the money they give COB, politely tell them thank you. But realize that you are probably talking to someone who has not given serious thought to the problem or to someone who is not well informed. I know some people will say that money is not the answer to everything. I agree, true it isn’t… and I say in those cases then don’t spend money… but if you are going to spend $2.223 billion, shouldn’t it go to the things that matter most… like education, health, security, you know the little things that are most important for the long-term health, peace and prosperity of a nation?
That’s why I say… #NO NEW FEES
* The figures presented are approximations based on a quick analysis of the countries’ 2012/2013 budget estimates and have not factored in the subvention that regional countries send to the UWI system. The Bahamas figures also do not factor in the new borrowing for this fiscal year; which makes the relative numbers worse.
3. COB: A Game of Shadows
Even in the wake of my demonstration of how education in the Bahamas is severely underfunded, relative to our West Indian bredrren, I know there will be some who continue to argue that the impending budget cuts are still necessary. Once again they are not! In fact in the last few months most of the global economic data has pointed to the dangers of budget cuts but I know some folks think that if it sounds good to them and make sense in their own heads, even if it isn’t based on anything real, then that’s all that matters. Don’t get me wrong cutting waste is good but indiscriminate budget cuts (and fee/tax increases) – very bad.
Anyhow, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that these cuts are so ‘necessary’ – can we expect that the other 73 departments/budgeted heads of the national budget will also be cut? Will there be 10% and then 25% cuts to the Ministry of Finance (MoF) and the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), The Ministry of Grand Bahama (whatever that is), etc.? It is interesting that COB received a negligible budget increase (~ 1% ) for the year 2012/2103, but the two units that fall under the direct purview of the prime minister, OPM and MoF, received budgetary INCREASES of 27.7% and 39.4% respectively – how convenient. Students you should demand that the OPM, MoF and all budgeted unit heads share the burden of these ‘necessary’ cuts. YOU SHOULD ACCEPT NOTHING LESS! Furthermore, you should insist that their cuts be based on the 2011/2012 budget and not the selectively inflated 2012/2013 budget.
I sometimes hear some folk say they don’t want their tax dollars being used to support COB. They’re not necessarily saying they want to pay fewer taxes but rather they just don’t want you benefitting from them. See dey een ga no problem paying the full cost of twelve years of primary and secondary education for 50,000 students enrolled in our public schools (even if dey chirren does go to private schools). They just gat a major problem helping to defray the cost of less than 5 years of tertiary education for 5,000 students. In fact they don’t mind paying $23 million to house 1,600 inmates up Fox Hill but $25 million to educate you and roughly 4, 999 other students – not their good tax dollars! If you want their full financial support, it seems you gat-to burse someone in dey head and get sent up Fox Hill fa dat (please do not try at home, school, the president’s office or anywhere for that matter). They would rather their money be used to help promote Atlantis than help you get promoted in life. They would rather their money be used to pay consultants from the UK to produce a couple sheets of paper (even if they don’t know exactly how much they paid them… or exactly what’s on the sheets of paper… or if there were any papers to begin with) than help you become a productive citizen. They would rather… I think you get the point – they’re just not into you. I know their thinking seems a bit cold and maybe even a little crazy, but thank God that you’ve got a president, council and government that’s got your back from mean-spirited, short-sighted, clowns who don’t mind doing you in and who think that the first place to start cutting from a national budget is your education.
Yeah, I heard about the recent fee increases (sorry ‘bout dat) but you caann really blame the government, council or the president for dat? You see the prime minister say een know what ya’ll talkin’ bout – so you caan blame him; and the minister of education, well een no one tell him – so you caaan blame him; and what about the council chairman? Well, he say he was traveling, and he say he een know wat gone down – so y’all DEFFFFINITELY caaaaan blame him. So it mussie Betsy fault then? Not really ‘cause they say y’all shouldn’t blame that poor woman, she’s just the president. She was probably only taking orders from one of those people who een know what gone down.
Yeah, I know! This wursa than “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.” It seems like no one’s to blame for ya fee increases so you misewell just go ahead and blame yourself… and while you’re at it, blame yourself for thinking that this country of yours should devote more tax dollars to ensuring that you not only get an affordable education but that you do so from a decent and well-funded world-class institution. Well that’s jus the definition of a freeloader: hoping that society will pay your college fees so you could get a good job and contribute to society and make lotsa money and pay lotsa taxes, some of which might be used to help some other young person become a freeloader by getting a good quality, affordable, maybe even free, college education… so that they could get a good job and contribute to society and make lotsa… just like you! Well, I hate to spoil it for you, the world don’t work that way, so I suggest you stop dreaming and get back to reality. Bey, where you tink you was, mussie in Barbados aye!
Several documents have surfaced and several statements were made over the past few months that paint a dire picture of our nation’s appreciation of higher education. Despite the best efforts of several cabinet members to diffuse the situation by adding hot air to it, it boils down to government cutting its subvention to the College of the Bahamas (COB). Significantly.
It begins with a letter by Ehurd Cunningham, Acting Financial Secretary, to COB President Betsy Vogel Boze. This letter instructs the College to “submit a financial plan … to reduce … subventions to your organization by 25% within the next 2 fiscal years with at least 10% in FY2013/14.”
The government’s subvention was $25 million last year. According to the English language, this translates into a budget cut for the College of at least $2.5 million this year, $6.25 million next year. Cunningham expects this to “be achieved without any reduction in quality and level of services … or any forced reduction in headcount.” I do not know how much thought Cunningham out into this letter – I understand that this was a rather standard letter going out to most government entities – but it shows a shocking lack of familiarity with conditions at the College. Cunningham suggests to look for “improvements in organizational efficiencies,” which is of course a good idea, and some monies can be saved there. However, it is unrealistic to save 25% in this way. Furthermore, for every penny that can be saved at COB, there is a dollar that urgently needs to be invested, that the College already cannot afford because of the underfunding of the institution, the underfunding of education.
At this point, it would be interesting to know what kind of discussions Boze may have had with the government in general and the Ministry of Finance in particular. Students, staff and faculty at the College would wish to see the College’s Senior Team in general, and its President in particular, take the government to task, and fight for adequate funding for the institution. There are excellent arguments supporting additional funding for COB, as opposed to budget cuts, such as the economic contributions of our graduates to the Bahamian economy, which far exceed the $25 million of annual subvention, or the discrepancy between government support for COB (approximately $5,100 per student) as opposed to the University of the West Indies (approximately $46,000 per Bahamian student). However, these stakeholders remain disappointed, for even if the government will not listen, it would not – outside of the Bahamas, that is – be unusual for university leaders to present their case directly to a national audience, via the media.
Cunningham’s letter was dated 20th December, 2012, and the deadline by which COB was supposed to submit its proposals was 31st January, 2013. Yet on 7th February, 2013, Boze sends an e-mail to the College’s faculty and staff informing them of the situation, calling for a meeting the next day “to cooperate and collaborate on recommendations for enhanced efficiencies, austerity measures and fiscal prudence.” Was this really an invitation to seek solutions together, or was this an exercise in keeping the people content when the die had already been cast?
The general nature of Cunningham’s letter was confirmed by the Guardian on 11th February, 2013, in an article that quoted Michael Halkitis, Minister of State for Finance, though either Halkitis and/or the Guardian remain vague on details and do not mention the College in particular. The College’s case was brought to the public’s attention by COBUS, the College of the Bahamas Union of Students. In a press release dated 17th February, 2013, COBUS lashed out against the proposal by the College’s senior management, who seem to seek to offset the subvention cuts with tuition increases, and chastised the government for their lack of vision.
At last COB’s students were beginning to stand up for their rights, which have been violated for so many years! I have often argued that revolutions occur not when noble ideas of abstract rights are being violated and economic conditions are difficult; revolutions occur when our economic conditions become unbearable, when our material survival is being threatened. The flurry of activity – well, not really activity, for they were not actions but merely words – with which the government reacted was… “interesting.”
Like children caught in the act, they tell a good tale that is all too easily dismantled. Ryan Pinder, Minister of Financial Services, for instance, insisted on a social media site that the government had not cut COB’s funding, period. Technically speaking, Pinder is correct, but the statement is irrelevant. As we are still in the 2012-13 fiscal year, and the 2013-14 budget is in the future, his use of past tense was correct. However, adding the word “yet” to his statement might have been more honest.
On 19th February, 2013, both the Guardian and the Tribune report Halkitis as saying that the letter did not mandate any cuts; in fact, he creates the impression that it was merely supposed to motivate the College to see if it may be able to somehow, perhaps, save a dollar or two. However, that is not what the letter said. Anyone who reads the letter like that, is suffering from a literacy challenge that urgently needs to be addressed.
The same can be said for a number of politicos who have engaged in disingenuous, Orwellian doublespeak while backtracking from the PLP’s campaign promise of “doubling of the nation’s investment in the education and training of Bahamians.” In the PLP’s mind, and to remain true to last year’s campaign jargon, albeit in reverse, investment here appears to be exclusively money spent on elusive new things previously unknown in Bahamian education, not on people. Yet by its very nature, education is the investment in people, so how is it not an investment in education to pay a teacher, the person who teaches people?
The words “doubling” and “and” have also been given new meanings. As investment now has a unique new meaning, representatives of the PLP government have often been quoted as saying that, by these standards, the level of “investment in education and training” under the FNM was zero dollars, and that therefore by doubling the investment it would have to remain at zero dollars. Simply put, investment means unicorns; we currently have no unicorns, and by having twice as many, we will still have none.
And in doublespeak, “and” means “or.” Said Halkitis, “We go from preschool all the way up to The College of The Bahamas and if we ask them to look at their budget to identify some savings in the subvention, theoretically we can take some of those savings and invest them in early childhood education, in special education, in building a new high school…” In other words, if a family of five had a ten piece bucket of KFC for dinner yesterday, and everyone had two pieces of chicken, I can now take the same ten piece bucket today, give two people five pieces and let three people go hungry, but apparently, I would have more than doubled dinner.
Later that evening, due to mounting pressure by COBUS, Jerome Fitzgerald, Minister of Education, was forced to release a statement. It basically confirmed the cuts, and he tried to spin them as a clever idea. Demonstrating that the College would not need to touch “personal emoluments and allowances,” the savings could come out of the other $7 million of the College’s budget, “1.25 million dollars in savings from operational efficiencies and 1.25 million dollars in other cost savings” this year, and a total of $6.25 million next year. Of course, when seen through a golden lens, one could hope that attempting to do the same thing with $0.75 million that previously cost $7 million would not lead to a “reduction in quality or level of services…”
Since then, the public’s attention has turned away to other issues, but behind the scenes, COB’s leadership, under Boze has been working on a financial plan to continue COB’s operations with less moneys from the government. The administration’s first plan, which was to increase tuition, was shot down by cabinet, so yesterday, in an e-mail to the college community, Boze announced a set of new and increased fees for students:
- parking fee – NEW*: $50 per semester
- library fee – NEW: $50 per semester
- capital facility development fee – new: $100 per semester
- technology fee – INCREASE: $20 additionally per semester
* Apparently, there is an annual parking fee of $20 on the books, however, it has not been collected, as COB does not have sufficient parking spaces to accommodate all students.
Based on the student figures from COB’s own fact sheet, these new and increased fees should raise approximately $2.2 million per annum; according to the most logical interpretation of Cunningham’s letter, the reduction of the government’s subvention should amount to a loss of $2.5 million. There remains a shortfall of $300,000. However, what must be pointed out is that the mandate from the Ministry of Finance stated that “at least 50% of the reduction would be achieved through improvements in organizational efficiencies.”
In other words, the government did not tell the College to simply go and find its money elsewhere. The government did not tell the College to simply make its students pay more. In fact, the letter stated that any “proposed measures should also be benchmarked to … the public’s ability to pay.” If any benchmarking research was conducted regarding this point, it was not communicated to the college community.
Yet Boze’s one-page e-mail to the college community contains only two sentences that – if only vaguely – address the government’s mandate to look for savings: “All budget officers throughout the College will be required to exercise more stringent fiscal discipline. Among the cost savings measures to be undertaken throughout The College are reduced budgets for travel and subsistence, food, utilities and over-time.” No further figures are provided.
Perhaps, the College’s leadership believed it was acting in anticipatory obedience, however, one could interpret these discrepancies as being in violation with the mandate given by the Ministry of Finance.
The College of The Bahamas is renewing its efforts to afford its students the opportunity to study abroad, see the world and broaden their horizons. The Study Abroad Programme is coordinated by Dr. Timyka Davis, the College’s Director for Student Leadership and International Relations.
As part of the Study Abroad Programme, the School of Social Sciences is currently developing a proposal to take a group of COB students on a roughly three-week trip to Berlin, Germany this summer. The School is proposing a six-credit course at the 300-level, entitled, “Study Abroad: History and Culture,” which has been submitted to Faculty Board and Academic Board for approval.
We encourage students interested in the Berlin trip to contact the Chair of the School of Social Sciences, Stephen Aranha, in the Michael H. Eldon Complex, or Dr. Timyka Davis, in the Student Union Building.
(This article is based on a presentation given at the “National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect” hosted by the Crisis Centre in Nassau, Bahamas, on 24th April, 2012)
Last November, the Crisis Centre hosted a one-day National Summit on Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA). Stakeholders from different sectors of our society, such as representatives from the Social Services, Health Professions, Education and Law Enforcement, attended and engaged in lively discussion. This conference now affords us the opportunity to follow up on the discussion. I would like to thank the Crisis Centre for organising this event, which is so important for our society, and I would like to thank Dr. Sandra Dean Patterson for inviting me to share some of my thoughts on the current debate about a National Sex Offenders Register for The Bahamas.
In the current election campaign, at least one political party is proposing the creation of such a register under the slogan “Marco’s Law.” This article will approach the subject from a number of perspectives. First, I will address the possible functions served by such a register, focussing less on the viewpoint of government agencies, but rather taking the public expectations into consideration. This will be followed by highlighting the findings of select international studies and their analyses of commonly discussed reactions and responses to CSA, especially criminal justice approaches.
In a next step, I will share with you some statistical and polling data that I have collected in The Bahamas over the past months. I believe that this will allow us to discuss whether a National Sex Offenders Register can meet the expectations that the public may have. As is often the case, public discussion on serious issues tends to call for quick and simple answers. I will demonstrate this by analysing another recent poll, conducted internationally on a social media network.
In my conclusion, I attempt to tie these various aspects together, and hope to present some strategies for future consideration, as we as a nation try to tackle the problem of Childhood Sexual Abuse.
- Purpose of a National Sex Offenders Register
The purpose of a Sex Offenders Register is not defined by what it can actually do, but by what its creators would like it to do. For this purpose, I am showing you two quotes, one by an Australian non-governmental organisation (NGO) and one by the United States Department of Justice.
The Australian NGO in question calls itself MAKO, Movement Against Kindred Offenders. It operates a website listing over 1,500 sex offenders without any legal mandate. The information contained in this database is compiled by volunteer contributors, who require no special training. In fact, you can report people via e-mail. The purpose for doing so is not directly given on their website, rather it is implied in some of pseudo-factual claims it makes. Further, it alludes to a number of other myths surrounding the issue of CSA:
“Many thousands of convicted Paedophiles/Sex Offenders/Child Killers ‘already’ live in ‘unsuspecting’ … communities, including near schools/playgrounds etc… and they are likely to RE-OFFEND… The State/Federal government/s should be providing YOU with access to sex offender registries, letting you know, who and where they are.” (Movement Against Kindred Offenders.)
If one were to follow MAKO’s website, one ought to become very concerned, and would immediately recognise why their listings of sex offenders are helpful to the ordinary citizen: Sex offenders are portrayed as perverts who lurk behind every corner to prey upon random children in the vicinity. These people are apparently frequently caught, but dealt with too leniently by the authorities. Upon returning to civilian life, they are bound to reoffend, because you cannot cure their perversion. However, the Center for Sex Offenders Management (CSOM), an organisation created by the U.S. Department of Justice, sheds a different light on these claims and debunks many of them as myths, as will be demonstrated later.
Yet, while remaining even more vague than the Australian NGO about the purpose of their website, another agency of the U.S. Department of Justice offers its own public sex offenders register:
“The Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) provides an opportunity for … an unprecedented public safety resource by sharing public sex offender data nationwide, working collaboratively for the safety of both adults and children. … Parents, employers, and other concerned residents can utilize the Website’s search tool as a safety resource to identify location information on sex offenders residing, working, and attending school not only in their own neighborhoods but in other nearby states and communities as well.” (U.S. Dept. of Justice.)
To see how the database worked, I entered the address of a friend of mine in the U.S., set the radius to one mile, and found myself looking at a screen listing no less than ten registered sex offenders in their neighbourhood. On this screen, I could now either click on symbols of houses displayed on a map, or scroll down for an alphabetical list of the offenders, and, by clicking on their names, I was given access to their personal information, their photo, vehicle information, court information, etc. They may as well walk around the street with a sign around their necks.
- Analysis of Criminal Justice Responses to CSA
In his examination of legislated initiatives aimed at preventing CSA, David Finkelhor, Director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center and Professor of Sociology at the University of New Hampshire, criticises that none of the high profile strategies – that are those most recognised by the public, such as Sex Offenders Registers – have “been built on empirical evaluation, and … have gone to the national scale without research or even much pilot testing. Several have been legislated and implemented over the objections of sex-offender management authorities. … they also appear to be creating many serious fiscal, bureaucratic and legal problems, as well as having other negative consequences.” (Finkelhor, p. 170.)
One major challenge any criminal justice response to CSA cannot overcome is the fact that the criminal justice system cannot respond to what is not reported. Most victims of CSA do not report the crime. The other major challenge the criminal justice system faces when responding to CSA is the political need to satisfy an electorate whose public discussion is largely not based on research findings, but on popular myths and misconceptions, such as the ones pointed out by a publication of the Center for Sex Offender Management.
- Myth: “Most sexual assaults are committed by strangers.”
- Fact: Most sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim or the victim’s family, regardless of whether the victim is a child or an adult.
- “Approximately 60% of boys and 80% of girls who are sexually victimized are abused by someone known to the child or the child’s family (Lieb, Quinsey, and Berliner, 1998). / “Relatives, friends, baby-sitters, persons in positions of authority over the child, or persons who supervise children are more likely than strangers to commit a sexual assault.” (CSOM, p. 1.)
- Myth: “The majority of sexual offenders are caught, convicted, and in prison.”
- Fact: Only a fraction of those who commit sexual assault are apprehended and convicted for their crimes.
- Many victims do not report the crime to the police; many do not even report it to friends or family members. Victims are more likely to report sexual crimes if the perpetrator is a stranger, but – as we have seen – more often than not, the crime is committed by a person known to the victim.
- Myth: “Most sex offenders reoffend.”
- Fact: Reconviction data suggest that this is not the case.
- “It is noteworthy that recidivism rates for sex offenders are lower than for the general criminal population.” (CSOM, p. 3.) / “Child molesters are more likely to be educated and employed than other criminals, which …may help explain their relatively lower recidivism.” (Finkelhor, p. 172.)
- Myth: “Treatment for sex offenders is ineffective.”
- Fact: “Treatment programs can contribute to community safety because those who attend … are less likely to re-offend …” (CSOM, p. 5.)
- Apart from treatment after-the-fact, which is nothing but a response to a crime that has already been committed, there are now, in fact, pilot projects such as the Prevention Project Dunkelfeld, which aims at targetting potential child molesters before they commit an offense. (Beier et al.)
- Myth: “The cost of treating and managing sex offenders … is too high – they belong behind bars.”
- Fact: “One year of intensive supervision and treatment … can range in cost between $5,000 and $15,000 … The average cost for incarcerating an offender is … approximately $22,000 per year, excluding treatment costs.” (CSOM, p. 6.)
- These numbers are from the United States, similar figures for The Bahamas are currently unavailable.
As much of the public discussion is based on the myths I just recounted, one popular demand is for a National Sex Offenders Register, preferably one that is publicly accessible, for instance via the Internet. Finkelhor’s study, however, concludes that such a register may in fact be more likely to cause additional, rather than alleviate existing, problems. It is easy to see why it would be harder for a registered, publicly known sex offender to reintegrate into society after serving their sentence. Just ask yourself, “Would you hire them?”
This could then, create a boomerang effect caused by public stigmatisation. Some studies, for example, measure higher recidivism rates for registered sex offenders than for unregistered sex offenders, suggesting that the additional difficulty in finding housing or employment caused by public labelling may be a factor contributing to this phenomenon.
Registration is only one element of the criminal justice response affecting the time period post conviction. Others include community notification (which often goes hand in hand with registration), mandatory background checks, residency restrictions and the so-called “civil commitment” procedures, a euphemism which allow some persons to be held even after they served their sentence. Finkelhor concludes in his analysis that the “strongest justification [of criminal justice strategies] is that they are widely seen by the public as part of a system that holds people accountable for serious crimes and provides a measure of justice for victims and their families. Such justifications may even trump evidence eventually showing that the strategies fail to reduce risk.” (Finkelhor, p. 178.) Human Rights Watch is characterises these approaches as “punitive,” and suggests that serious efforts to prevent CSA from happening cannot rely on “one-size-fits-all laws.” (Human Rights Watch, p. 12.)
- Analysis of Survey Conducted in The Bahamas
This survey, which was conducted online, was designed to allow for a closer examination of certain respondent groups, while at all times guaranteeing the full anonymity of the participants. The objectives for it were as follows:
- Demonstrate the prevalence of perpetrators known to the victim as opposed to perpetrators who are strangers.
- Get an impression of the amount of CSA that remains unreported.
- See if there is an indication on whether CSA has been increasing or decreasing over time.
- Gauge the support among the Bahamian public for a National Sex Offenders Register.
A full list of the survey questions can be found at the end of this article. Some of the findings were as follows:
28.3% of respondents reported that they were sexually abused as children.
Of those who were abused, 88.9% of respondents knew the perpetrator prior to the abuse. In most cases, these were family members, but also teachers, neighbours, sports coaches or family friends.
In only 12.9% of the cases of CSA, did the victim actually report the crime to family members.
In only 3.2% of the cases of CSA, was the crime reported to the authorities. 96.8% of cases were not reported to the authorities and therefore do not show up in official crime statistics.
These numbers can be broken down further. If we look at cases, where the perpetrator was know to the victim, we see that they are less likely to be reported. Of these only 6.9% were reported to family members immediately – and none were reported to the authorities. Of the cases were the perpetrator was a stranger, 66.7% were reported to family members immediately, and 33.3% were reported to the authorities. This is most likely the main cause for the common misconception that the perpetrators are usually strangers lurking in dark corners, because only reported cases get media coverage, and “stranger rape” is much more likely to be reported. In the vast majority of CSA cases, however, the perpetrator is known to the victim; these cases are much less likely to be reported. If they are not reported, they do not get media coverage. If they do not get media coverage, they remain hidden from public awareness.
The reported rates of CSA remained within the expected margin of error for all respondent age group from eighteen years of age to fifty years of age, indicating that contrary to popular belief there has not been a steady increase of CSA in The Bahamas over the years. However, data from current minors is missing, as this group was excluded from the survey, and there were too few respondents aged fifty or higher to make a statement about this group.
There is, without a doubt, an overwhelming public support for a National Sex Offenders Register. 83.1% of Bahamian respondents want to see this measure implemented (12.4% undecided, 4.5% against); 71.9% want this database to be publicly accessible (14.6% undecided, 13.5% against). Interestingly though, while victims of CSA still favour the creation of such a register, the support is measurably lower: 69.2% in favour, 23.1% undecided, 7.7% against.
- Implications for a National Sex Offenders Register
- Because CSA is hardly ever reported, a Sex Offenders Register would exclude most offenders.
- Most perpetrators are known to the victim, usually in a capacity where they enjoy privileged access to the victim.
- Both of the above points strongly suggest that a register would potentially create a false sense of security, and may in fact make people less vigilant.
- Because of the low rate of reporting and prosecuting CSA, any possible deterrent effect remains questionable at best.
We have seen that for every case of CSA that is reported to the authorities, there are 30 that are not. Unfortunately, my sample size was too small to even come across a single case that led to a conviction of an offender. If this had been a data collection exercise to build a National Sex Offenders register, the register would now be empty. There would be zero sex offenders registered. If you looked at that kind of register, you would be forced to conclude that “It’s better in The Bahamas.”
- Facebook Poll and its Implications for a National Sex Offenders Register
A very simplistic online poll posted on the immensely popular social networking site Facebook, via the Causes application, highlights some clear trends and opinions amongst the general population. The question – that is, the only question – was, “Should sex offenders be allowed to use the Internet?” 90% of respondents said no, and this result is no surprise. As the report by Human Rights Watch remarks, “One of the things sex offenders know is what the world thinks of them.” (Human Rights Watch, p. 130.) And if they did not know before, they would after reading the comments posted underneath that online poll.
The result was predictable, but it may be necessary to point out that the question was about the Internet in general, not about social networking sites in particular. The pros and cons of this are discussed in an article by Tracy Clark-Flory on Salon.com.
What is new about polls in the age of social networking is that participants can not only comment on the subject matter, but most do so with their full name, and usually their profile picture, too. The vast majority of these emphasise the point made by Human Rights Watch, and I invite you to take a closer look at what it is people suggest, but I must warn you that you do so at your own risk.
The implications this seemingly global poll has for the question of a National Sex Offenders Register for The Bahamas are worth discussing, and I might add that there were Bahamian Facebook users commenting on the poll. Anybody who follows the local news can see that there is a problem with violent crime in The Bahamas. Frequently, police statements about shootings or stabbings suggest that one frequent motive is revenge – revenge, often for other crimes committed that are, in fact, punishable according to the laws of our land.
However, the rule of law is being challenged. Not because Bahamians generally disagree with the laws we have on the books, but because many believe that the law is powerless, either because crimes are not solved, because criminals are not being punished to the fullest extent of the law, or because suspects are acquitted. If the law is being challenged on these grounds, whether this is fact or just the perception of some outspoken persons in the community, and the symptom is revenge crime, then we have, as a country, taken a step towards vigilante justice.
In this context I also find it interesting that many of the people commenting on Facebook explicitly mentioned that sex offenders, in their minds, forfeited any Human Rights. If you deny a person Human Rights, you are essentially delegating them to the level of an outlaw in a medieval legal context, and that means precisely that they would not be entitled to any protection from vigilante justice.
Now reflect on the sentiments expressed about sex offenders earlier, and add that to the mix. If people feel that our laws and the agencies enforcing them are letting people off too easily, I do not find it hard to imagine that publicly known sex offenders would in fact have to fear vigilante justice, be it in the form of lone ambushers or in the form of outright lynch mobs.
Also, as there is considerable doubt amongst the general public in our police and our justice system that criminals will be dealt with according to the law, what is to suggest that there is a different sentiment prevalent amongst potential or actual criminals? However, if criminals believe that the law will not be enforced, or in other words, that they will get away with the crimes they commit, then there really is not much of a deterrent factor measurable, no matter what the theoretical punishment for a crime might be.
- Conclusion: Alternative Strategies
As should be quite obvious by now, I do not think that a public National Sex Offenders Register for The Bahamas is a good idea, regardless of whether it is publicly accessible or not. Once an offender has served the sentence provided by the law, they deserve a second chance. If we do not believe this, we do not believe in rehabilitation. If we do not believe in rehabilitation, then we ought to, as a logical consequence, make all sentences for life.
A Sex Offenders Register in The Bahamas would, I believe, have a very negative impact on society, because, more than other, larger countries, we are in many ways still a face-to-face society, and because we currently lack faith in our criminal justice system. These two factors combined seriously increase the risk of vigilante justice as described above.
Even if my fears of vigilante justice were proven wrong, Finkelhor’s study suggests a boomerang effect, which would likely increase in a face-to-face society such as ours. Any measure that may lead to higher rates of reoffending need to be carefully researched before being implemented, and the body of research available for the particular situation in The Bahamas is still negligible.
Furthermore, even if we disregards the question of convicted sex offenders reoffending, the next question that must be asked, is whether such a register might have a deterrent effect on new, would-be offenders. We currently lack international studies that conclusively show Sex Offenders Registers having a measurable deterrent effect. While there are jurisdictions with such registers where sex offenses have decreased, it has also been noted that the decrease is only a continued trend that began before the introduction of said registers. In our situation, where the conviction rate is as low as it is, the deterrent effect has to be seriously questioned.
Finally, I see one more major problem a Sex Offenders Register could create. It would lull us into a false sense of security. As we have seen, most cases of CSA remain unreported. Of those that are reported, few lead to convictions. A National Sex Offenders Register would be no more than the proverbial tip of the iceberg. However, many unsuspecting parents would then falsely believe that, through access to a National Sex Offenders Register, they would know where the dangers lurk. Such a register would run the risk of making us less careful, less vigilant in our behaviour, our upbringing of our children. By the time we find out, if we ever find out, that we were mistaken, it is too late.
For all these reasons, what some politicians currently propose as “Marco’s Law,” won’t help Marco. A National Sex Offenders Register seems a poor tool in preventing abuse as well as a questionable punishment. Most importantly, it cannot undo what happened to Marco Archer.
The strongest case I could make in favour of a National Sex Offenders Register is the wide public support this proposal enjoys. I would not be a good democrat if I opposed it. Or would I? Well, a truly democratic society must always remember that decisions must be made in the best interest of all citizens, and that majority decisions must protect – not violate – the rights of minorities, the legitimate concerns of dissenters. I believe that I have shown that a National Sex Offenders Register would not be beneficial to society as a whole, would potentially violate the right to rehabilitation, and would also potentially create additional problems. With that in mind, maybe a popular majority needs to surrender to reason.
I would like to end on a less pessimistic note, and suggest some alternative strategies. They are not easy fixes, and they are not cheap for they require substantial investment in our human resources in the widest sense. They consist of multiple measures, and none of them can stand alone. Instead, we need a multi-pronged approach:
Education – of Teachers, Children and Parents: Increased awareness may help prevent some occurrences of CSA, and has been linked to increased reporting of CSA. Increased reporting may in fact work as a deterrent. Increased awareness has also been linked in studies to slighly decreased rates of CSA, as children with the right kind of education are more likely to resist the attempts of an offender, who is then more likely to back down. Their biggest advantage is the victim’s fear to speak up; this advantage would be diminished.
Detection Training – of Law Enforcement, Medical Professions, Teachers: If other professionals recognise signs of CSA earlier, it would enable them to help victims and prosecute offenders, even if victims do not dare speak up on their own.
Special Units – in Law Enforcement and Social Services: Currently, many victims choose to remain silent for fear of becoming a victim all over again, if they report the crime. Be it while being medically examined, questioned by police, or giving testimony in court. Special units, trained and equipped to deal with CSA can make this long road from reporting crime to convicting the perpetrator less traumatising for the victims and their families than it is at the moment. International pilot projects exist and have yielded promising results.
Partnerships – with Childrens Organisations, Women’s Organisations, Animal Rights Groups: Unlikely allies can, in fact, help pick up on warning signs early on. Animal abuse, for instance, is regularly reported, and has been linked in international as well as Bahamian studies with increased rates of domestic violence. Social services could monitor homes where animal abuse has been reported more closely for signs of other abuse.
Mobilisation – of Bystanders: This has proven helpful elsewhere. Even if perpetrators do not change their behaviour, and victims do not dare to speak up, bystanders, who at the moment too often turn a blind eye, can help. One may also consider threatening such bystanders with harsher punishments, as the threat of punishment has a greater deterrent factor on otherwise law abiding members of society than on would-be offenders.
Treatment – of both Past Offenders, as well as Would-Be Offenders: This too has yielded some promising results elsewhere. It is going to be a very unpopular sell to a public that largely wants a register, rather than investments in offenders, even if, as I believe I have shown, we demand the register for all the wrong reasons.
- Adams, Alison. “Seen but not Heard: Child Sexual Abuse, Incest, and the Law in the United States.” in: Journal of Law and Family Studies 11 (2009): 543-550.
- Anon. “Should Sex Offenders be Allowed to Use the Internet?” Accessed April 5, 2012, http://www.causes.com/causes/1687-keep-sex-offenders-off-the-internet/actions/1601549?utm_campaign=action_email&utm_medium=email&template=activity_mailer%2Fnew_poll_activity&utm_source=causes&causes_ref=email.
- Beier, Klaus M., et al. “Can Pedophiles be Reached for Primary Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse? First Results of the Berlin Prevention Project Dunkelfeld (PPD).” in: The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology 20 (6/2009): 851-867.
- Brown, Ingrid. “Horrific! A Traumatized Doctor’s Gory Tale of Children being Raped, Infected with STDs.” Jamaica Observer, April 1, 2012. Accessed April 5, 2012, http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Horrific_11166833.
- Center for Sex Offender Management. Myths and Facts about Sex Offenders. Accessed April 5, 2005, http://www.csom.org/pubs/mythsfacts.pdf.
- Clark-Flory, Tracy. “Want to Friend a Sex Offender?” Salon, April 7, 2012. accessed April 8, 2012, http://www.salon.com/2012/04/08/banning_sex_offenders_online/.
- Finkelhor, David. “The Prevention of Childhood Sexual Abuse.” in: The Future of Children 19 (2/2009): 169-194.
- Human Rights Watch. No Easy Answers: Sex Offender Laws in the US. Accessed April 5, 2012, http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/us0907webwcover.pdf.
- Jones, Royston. “Reported Child Sex Abuse Cases Rise.” The Nassau Guardian, March 27, 2012. Accessed April 5, 2012, http://www.thenassauguardian.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=27617&Itemid=27.
- Movement Against Kindred Offenders. MAKO/Files-Online: Listing Australian Paedophiles/Sex Offenders. Accessed April 5, 2012, http://www.mako.org.au/prelist.html.
- United States Department of Justice. Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website. Accessed April 5, 2012, http://www.nsopw.gov/Core/Portal.aspx.
- Wurtele, Sandy K. “Preventing Sexual Abuse of Children in the Twenty-First Century: Preparing for Challenges and Opportunities.” in: Journal of Child Sexual Abuse 18 (2009): 1-18.
- Wurtele, Sandy K., and Kenny, Maureen C. “Partnering with Parents to Prevent Childhood Sexual Abuse.” in: Child Abuse Review 19 (2010): 130-152.
Appendix – Survey on Child Sexual Abuse in The Bahamas
1. What is you gender?
2. What is your age?
- 18-21 years
- 22-30 years
- 31-40 years
- 41-50 years
- 51-60 years
- 60 years or older
3. Where do you currently reside?
- The Bahamas
- Other Caribbean Country
- North America
- South America
4. Were you sexually abused by an adult when you were 15 years of age or younger?
5. If you were a victim of child sexual abuse, where did this occur?
- The Bahamas
- Other Caribbean Country
- North America
- South America
6. How old were you, when this sexual abuse occurred?
- 8 years or younger
- 9-10 years
- 11-12 years
- 13-15 years
- I don’t remember.
7. Was the perpetrator who sexually abused you male or female?
- Don’t Know / Other
8. Did you know the perpetrator prior to the sexual abuse?
- Don’t Know (e.g. “Could not see the perpetrator.”)
9. If you knew the perpetrator prior to the abuse, was it a…
- Family member living in the same household as you
- Family member living in a different household
- Family friend
- Teacher, Tutor, or Sports Coach
10. As far as you know, had the perpetrator been convicted, in a court of law, for child sexual abuse prior to abusing you?
11. Did you report the sexual abuse to a family member or friend?
- Yes, immediately.
- Yes, within a few days.
- Yes, within a few months.
- Yes, within a few years.
- Yes, but only once I was an adult.
12. Did you, or anybody else, report the sexual abuse to the police or any other official authority (e.g. Crisis Centre, hospital)?
- Don’t Know
13. Was the perpetrator convicted, in a court of law, for sexually abusing you?
- Don’t Know
14. As far as you know, did the perpetrator sexually abuse other children after sexually abusing you?
15. Was the perpetrator convicted for a case of sexual child abuse committed after they had sexually abused you?
- Don’t Know
16. Are you in favour of a National Sex Offenders Register?
17. If there was a National Sex Offenders Register, should the information be publicly accessible, e.g. via the Internet?