Natl. security minister says sentencing too harsh in sex case involving teen girl

Natl. security minister says sentencing too harsh in sex case involving teen girl
File Photo.

Activists call for resignation of DPP and minister

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Minister of National Security Wayne Munroe, QC, said yesterday that had he been the attorney for the 40-year-old man sentenced to four years in prison for impregnating a 14-year-old girl, he would not have advised him to take such a high sentence because “she consented”.

Minister of National Security Wayne Munroe speaking to reporters at police headquarters.

Munroe was responding to the controversy surrounding the plea deal given to Jason Pratt and the comments from Acting Director of Public Prosecutions Franklyn Williams that seemed to be blaming the victim for her “highly sexualized” behavior.

Speaking to reporters following the Royal Bahamas Police Force’s annual awards ceremony at the Paul Farquharson Conference Centre, Munroe admitted that he was not familiar with the case.

He went on however to make a point about the sentencing of similar sexual assault cases, indicating, “If you were to rape a virgin and if you were to rape a prostitute, both are rape, but you’re likely to be awarded a higher sentence for raping a nun than raping a prostitute.

“That’s just what the case law says because you consider the impact of the offense and considering the impact of the offense, you consider victim impact, so that’s a part of sentencing.”

Police reportedly found the teenager at Pratt’s home on January 14, 2020, after receiving a tip from an anonymous caller and reportedly met the young girl putting on her school uniform at an apartment on Shamrock Close in the Carmichael Road area and reportedly met the young girl putting on her school uniform.

She reportedly told police that she met Pratt on Facebook and had sex with him five times between June 2019 and January 2020.

Pratt was sentenced to four years in prison as part of a plea deal for pleading guilty to five counts of unlawful sexual intercourse with the schoolgirl.

But Munroe said that had he been the attorney in the matter, he would have advised his client to go to trial.

“If I were advising the accused and someone gets seven years for raping somebody, I wouldn’t be advising my client to agree to four years for unlawful intercourse, because I would say that if we go to court, you would say to the judge, he didn’t rape her, she consented,” he said.

“The fact is, in law, her consent is neither here nor there. And if I were the defense counsel I would have not accepted a plea deal with that high level of penalty and we would have gone to court, maybe in five, six, seven years times.”

He added: “Four years for a guilty plea isn’t a sentence I would advise my client to take. It’s not a sentence that when you look at the actual sentences imposed by the court is low. So I wouldn’t as a private defense attorney have suggested that.”

The veteran attorney sought to explain the difficulty to prosecute such a case at trial and quipped, “I wonder who was this man’s lawyer”.

“Those cases are difficult to prosecute because you can have a victim, you can have a statement. And I’ll tell you the greatest problems with these matters, especially when it comes to children, when the case comes to court the young woman will likely be two, or three years older, [she may] have a child who is one or two years old. Now you’re the prosecutor, you have to get her to give evidence — she could always be obstinate, she could not remember anything — to put in prison, the father who she may be looking for, for support. 

“Most defense lawyers will roll the dice on that and most accused would gamble that the young woman won’t come to court and give evidence.

“If you ask the prosecutors and if you ask the Crisis Centre, that happens a lot of the time.”

He said most defense lawyers would have told the man to go to trial.

 

“It’s not rape”

Munroe insisted that he did not understand the controversy over the issue because having sex with someone under the age of consent “is not rape”.

“The issue is you are being punished because the person is under the age of consent”.

Pointing to the offense of unlawful sexual intercourse, he continued, “which means it’s not rape, which means that you are being punished because as a big man you shouldn’t be having sex with anybody under 16.

“If the person is under 16, if you force them, they would still charge you with sex with somebody under 16.

“But the sentencing court would say that you forced this person; they didn’t initiate it, so you will get a higher sentence than somebody who initiates it with you.”

Despite attempts to contextualize the issue as it related to the case of the 14-year-old and her inability to give consent according to the law, Munroe doubled down on his position.

“Yes, she could give consent. You can give consent from 7-years-old. It’s just the law says – having sexual intercourse with somebody under 16 with or without their consent, which tells you that the person can consent, it’s just that in law we say it doesn’t matter.”

He argued that given that the offense has two possibilities – underage consent and non-consent — the level of sentencing shouldn’t be the same.

“If you force somebody, you should always get a higher sentence,” he said, seeking to make a differentiation between the two under-aged sexual encounters.

Pressed on the power dynamic between an under-aged person and an adult, Munroe said: “Her consent doesn’t matter. Mind you you can get married at 14, but unless you are married, your consent doesn’t matter.”

According to the Sexual Offences Act, section 11,  any person who has unlawful sexual intercourse with a person between 14 and 16 years old, with or without their consent, is guilty of an offense and is liable to life in prison.

The national security minister contended that “the public can be outraged about many things, but at the end of the day the persons would have agreed to the sentence, including the victim…and you can engage a debate on it, but I would hope that we always sentence fellows who have sex with young children against their will more harshly who have sex with anybody who appears to be agreeing, regardless of their age.”

Resign

Munroe’s comments, which came on the heels of widespread backlash from the public over the acting DPP’s statement, have also landed him in hot water with activists also calling for him to resign.

In a statement, Free National Movement (FNM) Deputy Leader Shannendon Cartwright also condemned Munroe’s utterances, calling them “repugnant” with “no place in a civilized country.”

“If he cannot advocate on behalf of protecting children and law-abiding citizens, then he should reconsider his current career choice,” he said.

“The prime minister must urgently reign his national security minister in.”

About Sloan Smith

Sloan Smith is a senior digital reporter at Eyewitness News, covering a diverse range of beats, from politics and crime to environment and human interest. In 2018, Sloan received a nomination for the “Leslie Higgs Feature Writer of The Year Award” from The Bahamas Press Club for her work with Eyewitness News.