A protest has taken place today at the house where a convicted rapist was reportedly living, in the Beechmount area of west Belfast. Edward Connors, 20, raped an American tourist in a west Belfast forest park five years ago when he was 15. Connors, a member of the travelling community, was handed a three year suspended sentence yesterday at court after he failed to notify police of a change of address on dates between June 18 and 27, 2012 and he also failed to notify police that he intended to leave the jurisdiction on dates between July 13 and 26, 2012.
A sign stating “Sex Offender should not be released / resettled into our community”, was taped to the door of the house, while another stating “rapist not welcome” was fixed by local people to the front gate. Protests are to continue at 7pm nightly, until the community receive assurances that the man in question is no longer living there.
There is no denying that Connors attack on backpacker Winnie Li, who later waived her right to anonymity, was brutal. The then 15 year old teenager threatened the woman at knifepoint and raped her twice. Doctors who examined her found she had 39 separate injuries. He received an 8 year jail term, and was granted bail twice, despite breaching it on different occassions. The criminal justice process was small comfort to Li, who has written about her experience in both the Belfast Telegraph, and the Huffington post. Connors dangerously attacked, and raped Li in broad daylight. It was a horrific act, shocking the local community at that time, so much so, that 200 local people (of which I was one), showed their solidarity with the victim in question at a gathering in the forest park. (Gerry Adams was there that day calling for action, which is slightly ironic, given what later transpired about his own action / inaction and knowledge in relation to his brother, who was also later convicted of rape.)
But, it begs the question. Just where does the local community at Clowney street expect Connors to go? Anywhere other than their street?
Here’s the hard truth. Rapists and sex offenders live within our communities already. We just don’t know about most of them. Most incidences of abuse take place either within the home, extended family, or by a trusted individual who the family knows. Chances are, there are a good many in Beechmount already, just like in any other housing estate.
Connor’s risk will have been assessed by those who are tasked with such matters. It is arguable that his risk will be managed better, with stability, and regular contact with agencies. His barrister outlined previous difficulties his client had in hostel accommodation which led to his breach of bail.
People in England, and in America have been calling for knowledge for years through Megan, Sarah and Clare’s Laws respectively, to know where rapists or paedophiles live in communities, so that they can be aware, keep their children away, and monitor themselves. In some cases it has led to “vigilante justice”, but those cases are much outweighed by the fact that people convicted of rape can go on to resettle, without coming to the attention of the courts again.
It’s a horrible thought, and no one if they are honest, wants a rapist to be living next door. Some of us don’t know that some are already in our midst. Send them all to an island? The Catholic church tried sending paedophile priests to an island before, and not only did it not work, but it increased the risk of reoffending as priests living there cross contaminated each other.
They have to live somewhere, and much better that the community knows what the offences are, and how the risk is monitored, than just simply moving the problem somewhere else where risk could potentially be increased. Agencies should work with local communities to hear concerns, and adjust their resettlement plans accordingly. Protests demanding relocation are not the answer. Awareness, and proper therapeutic treatment for those who have deviant sexual behaviours, is.