On Friday afternoon, another volunteer and I pounded the pavement soliciting signatures for GNOW's (Grenada National Organization for Women) petition to stiffen penalties for sexual offenders. In Grenada, the current maximum sentence for any sexual offense is three years. This number is criminally low. Even so, many offenders, if they are convicted and sentenced at all (very rare) are likely to be back on the streets in a matter of months. Girls in Grenada have the lowest average age in the Caribbean for their first sexual experience, well before they reach the age of consent. 75% of crimes reported to the authorities are sexual offenses but only a very small percentage of these lead to arrests and convictions. These statistics, alarming as they are, are heavily skewed by under-reporting. The true picture is scary beyond words.
The petition calls on the authorities to make the necessary changes to allow the following:
1. Stiffer penalties for those persons who steal the innocence of young boys and girls and prey upon women- old and young.
2. Pass a law to establish a sexual offenders' register to disclose identities of sexual predators and to make this information public knowledge.
3. Adopting and implementing a protocol dealing with sexual offenses.
To my thinking, there is nothing in the petition that a reasonable person could possibly oppose. However, we faced a fair amount of opposition during our morning of petitioning. The majority of people we talked to were glad to sign. A small group of others made me realize how much progress there is to be made in protecting women's safety and increasing respect for women's rights, sexual and otherwise, in Grenadian society. It was hard for me to accept that I would even need to debate this issue, let alone walk away politely when people flat-out refused to sign. I'm glad for the signatures we collected, but the experience definitely strengthened my commitment to working to making Grenada a safer place for girls, and boys, to grow up.