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07 Feb Samoa sex offenders. Should they be forced out of the dark of anonymity?

Justice Vui Nelson – “The reality is that… this defendant and other like offenders will one day walk out the prison gates. As free, unmonitored, unsupervised but not necessarily rehabilitated men.”

Alo will be 71 this year. He is a mild-mannered looking man with silver hair and glasses. If you passed him on the street in Apia, you would probably nod your head in respectful greeting. He looks like any other distinguished-looking senior citizen. Any other Samoan grandfather.

But Google Alo’s real name, and you will find his photograph, his last known address in Oakland California, and birthdate in 1946. His height 6 ft. 2in, weight 230. His hair and eye color. He has a tattoo on his left arm. You will read all these things on the California Sex Offender Archive Record. His offense? Rape by force and fear.

We don’t know when Alo eventually made his way back to Samoa. But he surfaces again on public records in the Supreme Court of Samoa in September 2013, when he faces two counts of indecent assault on a little girl.

The record states that Alo’s “biological sisters aged 61 and 69 years have taken the unusual step of filing affidavits against the defendant. These state that the defendant had an incestuous relationship with one of his three biological daughters. Which daughter had four children by the defendant only revealed when she moved away from the defendant. One sister also says the defendant was convicted in the United States of sexual crimes against his other two biological daughters and for that he was sent to prison.”

It appears that Alo’s California conviction for rape was only the tip of the iceberg for his predatory behaviour.

The question then is, could the indecent assault on this child in 2013 have been prevented?

Justice Vui Nelson, the judge at Alo’s bail application hearing, said,  “the defendant’s record as a registered sex offender speaks for itself. That is strong evidence of his character and past behaviour. This only goes to show the value of having a Sex offender’s Register and those debating this issue should take note.”

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Fosi (not his real name) is a 52yr old married man, serving a 10 year prison term for the rape of his young daughter. On the 6th of September 2015, Fosi was granted weekend parole from Tafaigata Prison to attend his older daughter’s wedding.

There were many extended family aiga of both the bride and groom gathered together that weekend. One of them was a young teenage girl. In the night, Fosi approached her while she slept, touched and groped her inside her clothing. When she awoke and slapped his hands away, he tried giving her $5, which she threw back at him. Fosi twice grabbed and fondled the young girl and twice she resisted him. She then told her aunty about it and the aunty reported Fosi to the police.

Fosi eventually pleaded guilty to two charges of sexual conduct with a young person. Each charge carrying a maximum penalty of 7 years in prison.

Could the attack on this teen have been prevented?

At Fosi’s sentencing, Justice Vui Nelson said, “It is clear the defendant is a repeat sexual offender. Had there been a Sex Offenders Register upon which the defendant was required to register and which would have monitored his activities post-release, perhaps this offending may not have been able to occur. As the defendant would have been subject to strict conditions in terms of being alone in the company of young females.”

Justice Vui also went on to say, “When cases like this come before the court one cannot help but wonder also about the effectiveness of sexual rehabilitation programs that are supposedly being undertaken for offenders while in prison at Tafaigata. Perhaps the problem is there are no such programs being undertaken. Which should be a concerning state of affairs because all sex offenders, even the worst of them must eventually be released back into the community after they have served their terms.”

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A search through Supreme Court records will produce many cases like those of Alo and Fosi where fathers, uncles, cousins and neighbors are sentenced for sexual crimes against young children and teenagers. Often, repeat offences.

It can be hard to fathom that Samoa has sexual predators like those you read about or see in movies, but they do exist here.

A quick scan through some of the cases listed on Paclii.

October 2008, a 34yr old man appeared before the court for the third time on sexual offences. Convicted in 1993 of rape and sentenced to 4 years imprisonment. Then again in 2007, sent to prison for 8 years after raping a young girl who was on her way to primary school. The Judge said in his sentencing, “Your previous convictions entitle me to conclude that you are a compulsive sex offender with young school girls as your victims.”

November 2014, a 37yr old man husband and father pleaded guilty to 5 counts of indecent assault against 4 different victims, all of them young girls including his step-daughter. The man already had a previous conviction for the attempted rape of another young girl. The Judge called him, “a serial sex offender”.

December 2015, a father is found guilty of 13 counts of rape of his biological daughter who was 15yrs old at the time. It is not his first offence. He was convicted in NZ for the indecent assault of a young girl, and then deported after serving his sentence there. The Judge said he found it “astounding how a convicted sex offender  deported from an overseas jurisdiction because of his offending, considered dangerous enough to warrant being accompanied to Samoa not by one but two police officers, can then be permitted to live freely and anonymously in our community with no restriction whatever. With nothing in place to prevent possible reoffending.”

In November 2016, a man serving 20 years for the repeated rape of his 14yr old daughter, was sentenced again – this time for trying to rape a 13yr old boy. The teenager was doing a 2 year sentence at the Olomanu Juvenile Facility for sexually assaulting a girl under 10 years of age, but he had been transferred to Tafaigata Prison because he had escaped from Oloamanu, “probably more than once”.

Time and again, you read a Judge’s observations that Samoa needs to have a prison treatment and counselling program for those convicted of sexual offences, and needs to establish a Sex Offender’s Register.

Last week, American Samoa went live with their online sex offender registration website, the purpose of which is “to track and register sex offenders who reside, attend school or are employed in American Samoa and to make available information to the public for their use.”

Where is Samoa on this?

In 2013 the Samoa Law Reform Commission (SLRC) undertook an assessment to determine if Samoa should have a Sex Offender’s Register (SOR), and if such a register would help prevent sexual-re-offending.

The Commission said that a call for a SOR originated from a Supreme Court case in December 2012, where a 45-year-old male was convicted and sentenced to 3 years imprisonment for indecent assault of a 7-year-old female child. The same offender was also convicted and sentenced to prison for a similar sexual offence of a 7 year old girl.

Justice Nelson, the sitting judge in the proceeding stated the following: “It may also be such time for sex offenders in this country to register so that people may know what kind of people are around their children…it is clear that this defendant learnt nothing from the first time and the chance for re-offending is high.”

According to Leota Theresa Potoi of the SLRC, their report was approved by Cabinet last year, and is now being considered by a Parliamentary select committee. “We also attached a draft bill to the report simply to illustrate our recommendations and to be proactive. The draft bill wasn’t vetted by the Attorney General’s office and I understand the AG is considering it and possibly tweaking as they see appropriate…we only provided suggestions.”

The SLRC made 27 recommendations in their SOR report.  You can read it here: SLRC Report on Sex Offender’s Register.

Unlike American Samoa’s registry which is publicly available and accessible to all, Samoa’s recommended register would not be made public – except in certain cases.

Recommendation 8 of the report states, “information on a SOR relating to serious recidivist sex offenders, for example where children or people with disabilities are victimized, should be made publically available. This may be done by requiring information about offenders to be automatically transferred to a public part of the SOR when there is serious repeat offending by that offender.”

The report recommends that the Court be given discretion when sentencing a serious repeat offender, to decide if that information should be made publicly available, “if there is a pervasive pattern of serious sexual offending and a high risk to reoffending, upon an application by prosecution.”

Questionably then, repeat offenders like Fosi and others mentioned above, could come under this category?

Another recommendation is for sex offenders who are convicted in overseas countries, to also be added to the SOR.

Alo’s case is cited in the report as an example of what can happen when convicted Samoan sex offenders overseas are deported and then not adequately monitored.

According to statistics provided for the report by the Transnational Crime Unit, the majority of criminal deportees have been deported for committing violent and sexual offences, “sometimes even classified by the deporting country as a paedophile”.

“In 2009, 75% of criminal deportees arriving in Samoa were violent and sexual offenders and in 2014, 85% of criminal deportees consisted of violent and sexual offenders. These criminal deportees are resettling in Samoa among families, villages and communities who are unaware of their criminal pasts – which may only be known when he or she has re-offended in Samoa. Criminal deportees who committed sexual offending against children overseas are resettled in family situations where there are children present.”

The Samoa Returnees Charitable Trust does valuable work with criminal deportees to Samoa, through its reintegration and rehabilitation programs and monitors its members through weekly phone calls, home visits and various community projects and vocational training.

But as they made clear to the SLRC, it’s voluntary for criminal deportees to register with the SRC Trust. The Trust currently has 60 registered members and yet there are an estimated 200-300 criminal deportees in the country who arrived before the establishment of the SRC Trust.

Alo is one of them.

Where are the others? If they are sex offenders, should your aiga, your village, your local school – have a right to know?

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Amongst the submissions made to the SLRC about a register for sex offenders, were concerns about how it would work in a small country like Samoa. Issues were raised about the potential for harassment and discrimination directed against not only the registered sex offender, but also their families.

The National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) in Samoa spoke about balancing the rights of offenders against those of the victims, and reminded of the offender’s right to privacy.

Concerns were also expressed about youth offenders, first-time offenders and those convicted of statutory rape. “These submissions emphasised the need to consider the effects of a SOR on offenders who may have the potential to be rehabilitated, but who, due to registration may face extreme difficulty in securing employment and being reintegrated back into society.”

Taking these concerns into account, the SLRC recommendations include not only that Samoa’s SOR not be public (except in certain cases), but also that youth offenders not be put on the register – “unless it is satisfied that the offender has a persuasive pattern of serious sexual offending or if there is a high risk that the offender will commit a similar offence in future”.

Recommendations also call for sexual offences to be categorized into different groups depending on level of severity, with only the most severe – such as rape and other similar offences – placing an offender on the SOR.

The SLRC emphasised that a register for sex offenders is “…not a form of punishment or sentence of the court but an add-on additional feature designed in the interests of public and child protection…a regulatory feature that follows automatically from a conviction and sentence and that is a…measure aimed at helping to protect the community from sex offenders …”

In Fosi’s case, Justice Vui said of a SOR, “Had he been a registered  sex offender  and subject to strict monitoring and supervisory conditions this sort of reoffending would probably be far more difficult to perpetuate. One of the primary purposes of such a register is to place barriers and restrictions on offenders thus making it more difficult for reoffending to occur.”

“The reality is that… this defendant and other like offenders will one day walk out the prison gates. As free, unmonitored, unsupervised but not necessarily rehabilitated men.”

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From the report by the Samoa Law Reform Commission on a SOR.

The purposes for a SOR should include:

1. to assist in law enforcement and crime prevention;

2. to assist in the investigation and prosecution of sex offences (or more particularly, child sex offences);

3. to require offenders who commit registrable offences to provide personal details to the police, and keep them informed of their whereabouts;

4. to require persons who move to Samoa or are deported to Samoa following a sexual conviction overseas, to provide personal details to the police, and keep them informed of their whereabouts;

5. to reduce the likelihood of offenders who have committed sexual offences from re-offending;

6. to assist in the monitoring and management of sex offenders in the community;

7. to aid courts when making certain orders prohibiting certain offenders from engaging in specific conduct (example working in child related employment);

8. Other related purposes.

Sexual abuse is a crime. You can get help from:

  • Samoa Police – Ph 22222
  • Samoa Victim Support Group – Ph 800 7874
  • Faataua o le ola  Counselling and Support – Ph 800 5433
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