Courts should impose heavy penalties on child abuse offenders
Guyana Chronicle
February 24, 2004

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ON Friday, February 13, 2004 I read a story on the Internet - in fact, the website of New York Newsday, from which I read the article - saying in a nutshell that a court in New York had imposed a long sentence on a middle-aged man who had been convicted of sexually abusing boys.

As a person who spent some time overseas, I know for a fact that certain offenses carry stiff penalties in countries in North America, Europe and Latin America.

We in Guyana and the Caribbean tend to be relatively lenient in passing judgment on most offenses.

One argument could be that our prisons are already overcrowded and that because the government is taking so mightily long to build a bigger prison somewhere outside of Georgetown, the judiciary is forced, from a humanitarian point of view, to go easy in their sentencings.

Another argument could very well be that even though prison space may be available, the conditions of many of those cells are so atrociously unfit for human habitation that a light or short sentence is preferred.

These points, if they hold at all, are debatable. But I can conclude at the outset that our judiciary should not be overly considerate of offenders who sexually abuse children.

In this regard, please bear with me while I share part of the Newsday article: "A former pediatrician convicted of traveling to Mexico to have sex with young boys at what the U.S. government described as a brothel for pedophiles was sentenced Friday (February 13, 2004) to 21 years and ten months in prison.

"U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan said the long sentence was necessary to prevent Stefan Irving, 56, of Brooklyn from abusing boys in the future. Kaplan called Irving an "extremely dangerous individual" and said he had no doubt that Irving had been getting away with numerous instances of sexual abuse for years before he was caught and prosecuted.

"He also fined him $250,000, saying Irving had repeatedly violated the oath he took as a doctor to "do no harm." Irving traveled in 1998 to a resort in Acapulco, Mexico, where poor, orphaned boys, some as young as 6, were paired with visiting men for sex, according to government court papers.

"He traveled in 1999 to Honduras for the same purpose, the government said. Irving's lawyer, Cheryl J. Sturm, had argued for leniency, saying her client was a "touchy feely kind of person who was never into rough stuff" but yet was being sentenced the same as those who commit kidnapping, torture or worse. She said he could be rehabilitated with medicine and therapy.

"But the judge said it was particularly "galling" that Irving was a highly educated doctor and that few defendants would have been in better position to know how to treat his addictions with medicine.

"Instead, Kaplan said, Irving went to other countries and preyed on vulnerable street children who could be lured with something so simple as a sandwich."

It is interesting to note that Kaplan's attorney did not deny his client's guilt. The article went on to say that Kaplan was convicted of child abuse in 1981 after he abused children in Middletown, N.Y., while he served the community as a school physician.

His record of sexual child abuse stretched into the offense for which he was tried, found guilty and sentenced. Yet the man's attorney sought the leniency of the court in its sentencing of the offender.

I am not denying that our judges and magistrates are oblivious to the serious nature of any particular offense, or that they are insensitive to the very devastating impact that abusing young boys and girls can have on their lives and on the lives of family members, even friends and neighbours if they are caring enough.

At the same time, I must say that I have not seen or heard the courts here impose stiff penalties on child offenders. That I think they ought to do.
Yours faithfully,
Augustus Whyte