Deborah Coddington

Deborah Coddington is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Deborah Coddington: Key strategy still missing in fight against sex crime

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The release of the Sex Offender Index in 1996 unleashed an avalanche of criticism. Photo / John Stone
The release of the Sex Offender Index in 1996 unleashed an avalanche of criticism. Photo / John Stone

How did someone convicted in 2004 of sexual offending against a 14-year-old get to train as a teacher, then find employment in at least five schools?

We shouldn't need a ministerial inquiry to answer this. I know nothing about this case, but my guess is because we're desperately short of te reo teachers, schools bent over backwards to accommodate this fellow.

On top of that, some sex offenders are incredibly manipulative, plausible and charming.

And brilliant with children.

But their collateral damage is analogous to chucking a rock in a pond and watching the ripples.

In 1996 I unleashed an avalanche of criticism, hatred and death threats when I released the Sex Offender Index.

It contained the names, ages, convictions, last known towns (but not home addresses) and descriptions of crimes of some 500 sex pests and it came about because I'd been editing another book about keeping kids safe.

Media Monitors had clipped all newspapers (this was pre-internet) and articles were filed in cardboard boxes. Needless to say, the "S" boxes, for sexual assault, outnumbered all others.

When I began reading these clippings, dating from 1989 to 1995, and noticed the same offenders' names recurring, I thought the public should know these recidivists were lurking in communities, were manipulative, we did not know their names, and perhaps an index might help.

Then when I realised there existed crossover between child rapists, adults assaulting adults, women sexually assaulting children and so on, I decided to list all who could legally be published.

Only one offender sued me for defamation - because he'd been called a double rapist, and his second rape conviction had been quashed. It was settled out of court.

In 2007, I went on to publish the Australian edition, then another New Zealand updated edition in 2004. The books have long sold out, and I've only got one copy left, but I still get calls from reporters, sports coaches, parents and members of the public wanting to check on someone.

But my book had serious shortfalls. Under the Privacy Act, they were defined as databases, so legally I could only publish the names of those who'd already been published in newspapers (so much for the many editorials which damned my work).

So that meant all those with name suppression, or who by luck missed out on being reported in their local rag, weren't listed.

So while my books stimulated debate about sex offenders, helped a few victims (judging by the personal correspondence I received), and protected a few children, they certainly weren't enough. Compiling them was also extremely draining - financially and mentally.

In Canada, America and Britain they have better ways of trying to protect people from sex offenders who, let's face it, are different from other criminals in their propensity to reoffend. These countries have passed legislation which makes it compulsory for sex offenders to register with authorities.

So in 2002, when I went to Parliament, I had similar legislation drafted for this country. The Sex Offender Register Bill was drawn from the ballot, passed its first reading, and went through select committee. But the Labour government recommended it not pass.

According to then-Attorney-General Margaret Wilson, the bill did not contravene the Bill of Rights Act. It needed fine-tuning, but I still believe it could be a vital tool in the kit for protecting the public from these predators.

If this aforementioned offender had been on the register, with photographs, DNA and all other identifying details available to schools and the Teachers Council for thorough checking, and if employers did their jobs correctly, there's no way he could have slipped through the system.

Right now, it seems like this is legislation whose time has come.

Sixteen years after I had to hire security to follow my daughter to school, the heat has gone out of this debate. Even mainstreamers like Mai Chen write opinion pieces on sex offenders' privacy these days.

When I researched the Canadian legislation, their first convicted offender to register, Jake Goldenflame, wrote to me, saying: "The only reason a sex offender wants privacy is to go back to being a sex offender."

- Herald on Sunday

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