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Sunday, July 15, 2012

AdilanClub: S'pore mulls sex offender registry

Sulaiman Kamal | 2:30 PM | | Best Blogger Tips

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Should there be a sex offender registry here?

Those in favour of the idea argue that a registry serves the public interest to keep people informed.

For example, people hired to work with children can be screened for underage sex convictions.

Those who oppose it say it will hinder attempts for ex-offenders to be reintegrated into society.

The debate is not new and not limited to the Singapore experience.

But it has come up again following the conviction of Jonathan Wong, the former government scholarship holder.

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Wong, 25, who was put on the sex offender register in the UK for seven years after he was caught for kiddie porn, returned here and had underage sex.

He was sentenced to five years in jail.

Member of Parliament (MP) Alvin Yeo, a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, said it is time to seriously consider having a sex offender registry.

"Given the increasing number of incidences, it is right to give this serious consideration to screen people for certain things. For example, to ensure the offender is not working closely with children or they don't live too close to the victim."

The police here said they do not keep a sex offender registry as it is unclear whether it will have any deterrent effect on the offenders.

A registry will also hinder rehabilitation and reintegration efforts.

While a registry may not serve as a deterrent, would it help in solving cases?

Sexual assault

Between 2004 and 2005, Sashi Kumar Pubalasingam sexually assaulted three women near where he lived.

Dubbed the "Clementi monster", he attacked his first victim, then aged 67, just weeks after being released from Reformative Training Centre (RTC) where he was sent for molesting his female classmates.

Although investigators got the attacker's DNA from the semen, they didn't know it was Sashi Kumar.

There was no DNA record for a sex offender before 2003.

Sashi Kumar was sent to the RTC in 1998.

In some US states, sex offenders are not only required to put their details down in the register after jail time, they also have to update their addresses every year and provide a DNA sample.

In several cases overseas, the call for a registry followed high-profile trials of paedophiles.

Lawyer P. E. Ashokan, who specialises in civil and criminal cases, is all for a sex offender registry here.

"If not, people who abused children sexually may be allowed to work in places where children are present.

"If we have a sex crime registry, whether a church or school - where children are abundant - they can check and prevent contact."

Mr Ashokan, who is a partner at Khattar Wong, acknowledged that having such a registry may not be foolproof in preventing any offenders from coming in contact with potential victims.

But he added: "It can reduce the number of potential crimes. We can put paedophiles away from children, we can check it against those who look after children, whether as an employee or as a volunteer."

What does being on a sex offender registry entail?

In the US, some categories of offenders are required to be monitored via a parole system or through electronic tagging.

Law enforcement agencies here have experience with post-jail monitoring.

The Central Narcotics Bureau has a supervision scheme which requires ex-addicts to report for regular mandatory urine tests.

The police had a system to get ex-gangsters to similarly report to police stations after serving jail time for being members of a secret society.

So the experience is there.

But who should do the monitoring?

Psychiatrists The New Paper spoke to said sex offenders like paedophiles need treatment even after they have served their sentence.

Here, sex offenders go through a rehabilitation programme while in prison.

A Singapore Prisons Service spokesman said convicted sex offenders are assessed, and categorised into low-risk, moderate risk and high risk.

Only those in the latter two groups go through the programme.

He added: "They are assessed based on factors such as their likelihood of re-offending, their sexual habits, their attitudes towards sex offences and their history.

"Those at high risk go through a more intensive version lasting six to eight months, and involving group discussions, while those at moderate risk undergo a four-month course."

In the overseas experience, not only is post-jail time counselling necessary, it's mandatory while an ex-offender is on a register.

MP Desmond Lee, who is also on the GPC for Home Affairs and Law, said parents and employers also have the responsibility of ensuring the safety of their young charges.

He added: "We should consider 'privacy neutral' options first, such as effective counselling and rigorous psychological assessment for sex offenders while they are still in prison, and close follow-up after release for a period of time.

"If the assessment is that there may be some risk of re-offending, and I accept that psychiatric and psychological assessments like these are incredibly hard to undertake with any certainty, then there should be a power for the authorities to mandate follow-up and counselling for a longer period of time.

"The authorities could also be given the power to prohibit or restrict the types of employment or the kinds of activities that an ex-offender may undertake."

Mr Yeo said: "I can see the advantages of making post-jail time treatment compulsory. To me, it should be part of rehabilitation efforts."

But lawyer Rajan Supramaniam of Hilborne & Co does not think that we should have a sex registry here as it will



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