Protecting Women and Children in Taiwan

Last year there were several cases in Taiwan in which individuals convicted of sexually abusing children received what were widely considered to be excessively light sentences. This led to the “White Rose” movement, which was launched on Facebook and eventually brought the issue to the attention of the president and the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

One result was the introduction of certain legal amendments. Another was that the movement shed light on the extent of the abuse to which women and children are subjected in Taiwan. It was only then that the public woke up to just how inadequate our social resources are when it comes to dealing with this issue.

Sexual offender Lin Kuo-cheng (林國政) was recently released after serving eight years of a prison term and has since allegedly confessed to the rape and murder of a 13-year-old junior-high school student in Yunlin County. It was only through this tragic incident that the public was made aware that the new rules on the electronic tagging and involuntary treatment of sex offenders does not apply to individuals such as Lin who have served their sentences and whose crimes were committed prior to the passage of these legal amendments.

Irrespective of how high the risk of reoffending, society is powerless to keep such sex offenders permanently off the streets — unless of course they are executed.

After the Yunlin County commissioner apologized and promised that those responsible would be disciplined, some people thought that what happened was the result of a few careless mistakes by the Yunlin County Government or civil servants at the Ministry of Justice. Anyone who came to such a convenient conclusion needs to think again.

In 2005, Taiwan passed legislation on registration, reporting and consultations for sex offenders, but because of fierce opposition from human rights groups it fell far short of what women’s groups had hoped for. What they wanted was something like Megan’s Law in the US, laws requiring public access to information on registered sex offenders.

The diluted version of the legislation applied only to a minority of offenders, who were only required to be registered for seven years. The register was not made available to the public: Only schools and children’s welfare groups were allowed access, and even then only with the prior consent of the sex offender.

As a result of these constraints, in the six years since the legislation was passed, only a handful of inquiries on sexual offenders have been made to the police. Clearly, these regulations have had limited effect in controlling sex offenders.

After the Sexual Assault Crime Prevention Act (性侵害犯罪防治法) was passed in 1997, prevention centers were set up in many counties and cities, and special women and Children’s protection divisions were established in local police precincts. The problem is how sex offenders released from prison or on parole can be effectively monitored and given counseling in the long term, when social workers and female police officers have their hands tied as a result of severe budgetary constraints.

The provision of involuntary post-prison release treatment is also problematic, given that no sooner has the ministry identified a suitable location, than local residents protest and prevent it from being set up in their back yard.

This makes it nearly impossible to establish the sort of rehabilitation mechanism that is needed. As a result, what started out as good intentions evaporated into thin air.

The US has perhaps the most comprehensive safeguards against sex crimes. The resources available, in terms of the reach and effectiveness of the law and the allocation of personnel, give authorities the power they need to combat sex crimes against children in a meaningful way.

In addition to Megan’s Law, the US has many federal laws specifically targeted at child sexual offenses. These include the 1994 Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, the 1998 Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act, the 2000 Campus Sex Crimes Prevention Act and the 2003 Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today Act, also known as the PROTECT Act. This last act stipulates that each state shall establish a sexual offender registry, accessible online, and that the “Department of Justice shall create a national Internet site that links all State Internet sites.”

In 2006, the US passed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, legislation which required the Department of Justice to establish an office to oversee the sentencing, monitoring, arrest, registration and tracking of sexual offenders, referred to as SMART for short. SMART is also responsible for standardizing the sexual offender registry criteria used by each state in the implementation of Megan’s Law. This is how the US has approached the standardization and linking of sexual offender regulation across the country. As mentioned above, the personnel needed to implement the legislation has also been made available. For example, the section that deals with sexual offenders in the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services is staffed with 24 full-time workers directly responsible for sexual offender registration.

Everybody agrees that the sexual molestation of children is a vile act, and that offenders should be punished. However, statistics in Taiwan and abroad show that more than 80 percent of victims of molestation know their attackers and that domestic violence and incest are major causes. We have known for some time that with the exception of a tiny minority of pathological offenders, by far the best way to ensure that sexual offenders do not and dare not reoffend is through access to a stable job and a comprehensive support system.

There have been numerous studies around the world about the effectiveness of Megan’s Law in preventing child sexual abuse perpetrated by people unknown to the victim. In Taiwan, we have to be very cautious about estimates made in this area, because we do not want to unduly raise expectations. Despite the huge amount of investment the US has made available, cases of sexual molestation still happen, and detection rates remain low. Most importantly, however, we need to recognize that if we are going to establish a safe environment for our children, legislative amendments can only go so far; they also need to be backed up by adequate personnel numbers to implement them.