Last month, Minister of Public Security Rear Admiral (Rtd.) Sarath Weerasekera announced he would publicly name perpetrators of child abuse, rape and assault in an attempt to deter other potential offenders. Weerasekera said that, in addition to facing legal consequences, offenders will have their photographs and personal details released to the public. If this is done — albeit with a clearer sense of structure, scrutiny and with the purpose of protecting potential victims and communities rather than shaming perpetrators — it would effectively constitute a system similar to a sex offender registry, or SOR, a list of convicted sex offenders within a state.
Sri Lanka, like most Asian countries, does not have any laws governing sex offender registration and notification. In countries that do, the details included on such registries vary from country to country, although they generally include the offender’s name, address, and physical description. Accessibility to SORs are limited to law enforcement, except for in the U.S.A., where they are freely accessible to the public. At the centre of the creation and maintenance of SORs is the protection of survivors and potential victims of sex crimes, a subset of offences that is particularly widespread in Sri Lanka. While we can’t expect an SOR to single-handedly solve our epidemic of sexual violence, would it help curb its spread?
“A registry, in effect, is for the purpose of protecting people from repeated offenders who are beyond reform or where there is the likelihood of them repeating offences,” Prashanthi Mahindaratne, a lawyer and prosecutor in the high–profile case of the 1996 rape and murder of Krishanthi Kumaraswamy, told Roar Media. “With the singular offenders who are convicted and who have served their sentences, I don’t think it’s appropriate to place them in a registry. Because as much as sexual offences are horrendous, unless there is a real risk of them committing the offence again, there is no need to continuously punish them. That is contrary to the rules of natural justice and human rights,” she said.
“We don’t have any substantive evidence that it is actually effective in the goal, which is to reduce and prevent harm,” Wijesiriwardena said.
A registry may, in fact, end up causing more harm. Being listed on an SOR, Mahindaratne said, would result in stigmatisation. “That person is going to have a very hard time integrating into society, and is just going to be completely rejected everywhere, and that might escalate into them committing more crimes because they’re angry with society,” she said.