Mister Speaker, I rise on this occasion out of a deep concern for the welfare of our youth, especially our women and young girls, whom we refer to as the Radiant Daughters of our Virgin Islands.
You would recall several months ago, I mentioned to this Honourable House that my colleagues and I were being inundated with calls and messages, especially from the parents of young girls – most minors, who had become victims of a trend that is taking place on social media.
I am, of course, referring to the situation where certain males, mostly older males within our society are engaging these females in sexual activities, recording explicit videos of these activities and then circulating the videos on social media platforms such as WhatsApp.
Often times the females in these videos are unaware that they are being recorded. Often, the persons who are doing the recording would capture the female’s face and details of her body so that she can be identified by persons who view the videos. On many occasions it can be discerned that the males involved are not minors. In a few instances the men appear to even be married, based on details such as the presence of a wedding ring on their finger.
Mister Speaker, there are some who say that the plot of the enemy is to destroy our males with drugs and abuse of alcohol. In the same way, the enemy will destroy our females with these videos if we as legislators, and if Virgin Islanders as a united people, do not stand up and support and protect our precious jewels.
As a society, we – the mothers, the fathers, the grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles, aunts, teachers and leaders – must enlighten our children to the dangers that lurk and including that of sexual predators. That will be their first line of defence – the knowledge to make choices that will keep them safe.
In the instance where someone has fallen victim, we, as a society, must not shun them and break them down further. We must help to minimise the damage and support them in their healing.
Who among us is without sin that we should be casting stones? Who among us has not made a mistake? Who has not done something only to realise the negative repercussions after the fact?
Technology can be used for good and it can also be misused and abused. Sexual activity is something that has happened throughout time and in all countries. Innocence, naivety and curiosity are not new to young people – or even to older ones.
What is happening is that behaviours and activities that used to fuel rumour mills now fuel social media feeds. The presence of images now makes it impossible to combat the rumours when they begin to spread. And, of course, make the damage more permanent because anything that goes on the Internet remains out there forever.
In the first instance, I want to remind the general population that minors legally cannot consent to sexual activity. Therefore, in some of those cases, where an adult is involved, a criminal offence would have been committed. I have full confidence in the Commissioner of Police and the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force that where possible prosecutions will be initiated. There are instances where this has happened already.
Manufacture, possession and circulation of explicit materials involving minors also falls under the laws regarding Child Pornography, and, likewise, I am confident that the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force and our courts will enforce these laws to the fullest extent.
The Cyber Crime and Computer Misuse legislation, which was recently assented to by His Excellency the Governor, for which we thank His Excellency, will also address some aspects of this matter – and as legislators, we make no apology for the severity of the penalties associated with this kind of misconduct because there is not enough money in the world that can be paid to ensure that when one’s reputation is tarnished that it can be put back white as snow, these are irrevocable damages.
It is important to note that when these videos are circulated, it is the reputation of the woman or young girl that is destroyed. The identity of the men is not usually affected because they hide their identity. Persons who cause the videos to be circulated also do not suffer damage to their reputation because their identities also remain concealed.
I want to also put members of the public and Honourable Members of the House of Assembly on notice that in short order your Government will be strengthening the requisite officials ability to assist investigators in tracing these videos so that the persons who are behind them and whose identities remain concealed while they destroy lives, will be uncovered, and so that they can be prosecuted. This will help to protect our impressionable youths, our women and our young girls from the negative effects of this phenomenon.
Mister Speaker, our BVI women and young girls are our jewels, as I said, and we must protect them, as well as our males. They are our future. Your Government is transforming the BVI into a highly competitive regional economy that will be bountiful with opportunities for our people – especially our younger ones – to have a bright, productive, prosperous future. Your Government wants our young people to benefit from our new economy and to be part of it. And that is why we are prepared to do what we must to protect them, so that their future is not stolen away from them by persons with bad intentions and who would exploit their vulnerability.
I want to urge our young people to be careful. In the instances where a person may have become a victim, please understand that you are not the bad person. The bad person is the one who exploited and betrayed your trust. If you believe that you have been taken advantage of, or you are a victim, please do not be silent. Speak to your parents, your school principal, your teacher, a guidance counsellor, or a police officer. They will help to protect you and they will help to get justice for you as the recently assented to Cyber Crime (Amendment) Act, 2019 addresses these issues.
It is only when the predators know that there are real consequences, that they cannot hide, and that they cannot get away with their wrongdoing that they will think twice before they prey on you and on others like you.
And again, I urge the population at large that when victims are identified or when they come forward, let us stand with them to give them courage, comfort and support.
Mister Speaker, I thank you.