Dhanraj Persaud was yesterday morning sentenced to 18 years behind bars for the rape of a girl who he said he did not know was below the age of consent as he said she had told him she was 17 years old.
Justice Jo-Ann Barlow, however, made it clear to the 38-year-old convict that the offence was statute-specific and stressed that it was immaterial whether he did or did not know that the child was under age 16.
The complainant was in fact 15 years old when Persaud sexually penetrated her on October 23rd, 2013—an act he does not deny, but held strongly, even at the point of sentencing to what he considered a defence since he did not know her true age.
In a stern reprimand, Justice Barlow told the expressionless Persaud who was unanimously convicted by a jury earlier this month that a strong message of deterrence needed to be sent to not only him, but potential offenders that it matters not what they genuinely believe the victim’s age to be.
She explained to Persaud that the fact the child was underage, amounted to a commission of the offence.
Such a complainant is “off limits,” the judge warned.
Justice Barlow said that what she found troubling was the fact that Persaud had the benefit of legal guidance from his attorney before trial, on the nature of the offence with which he had been charged and the likely implications, notwithstanding his belief of the complainant’s age.
The judge told the court that the convict’s insistence at promoting what he thought to be a defence, despite his own admission to having sexually penetrated the child indicated clearly to her that he still did not have an appreciation for the wrong he had committed.
“You knew you did not have a defence,” Justice Barlow told him.
She further went on to explain to him that it was the age of the child that mattered and not what he thought, while pointing out that the court needed to send that strong message to not only Persaud but potential offenders as well.
Against this background Justice Barlow said it is a risk for any adult to so engage a child believing them to be above the 16-year consent age and they will have to suffer the consequences if the contrary is proven.
The judge said that the entire court during the in-camera trial had the benefit of seeing the virtual complainant and could not understand how Persaud could have believed that the child was 17 years old at the time the crime was committed.
Having grown up in the same village where the child was also born and raised, the judge said Persaud’s explanation of not knowing the child’s real age was implausible.
In accordance with Section 10 (2) of the Sexual Offences Act Cap 8:03 which addresses the offence of Rape of a Child under 16 years, “It is irrelevant whether at the time of the sexual activity the accused believed the complainant to be sixteen years of age or over.”
Section 9 meanwhile, which deals with non-consent offences: children and vulnerable adults—states ‘unless expressly stated in any of the offences, it is not necessary for the prosecution to prove that the complainant did not consent, and belief in consent (whether reasonable or not) is not a defence.’
Recalling evidence presented at trial the judge noted too that the child’s parents had specifically forbidden Persaud’s request at having any relationship with their daughter.
Given that he was treated as not only a close friend, but family by the complainant’s parents, the judge told him “you did not only breach the trust the child reposed in you, but that of her parents as well.”
According to a probation report presented by senior Probation Officer Zola Cameron-Lubin, while the convict expressed remorse for the assault during her interview with him, he nonetheless remained adamant that he was misled because of the information provided to him by the complainant.
Cameron-Lubin said that notwithstanding that, however, the court needed to impose a sentence which would reflect the seriousness of the offences committed and a message that it would not be condoned.
In her report Cameron-Lubin told the court that she had made efforts to locate the complainant but was unsuccessful. The probation officer said that upon her visit to the now 20-year-0ld young woman’s house she made enquiries for her, but her reputed husband was rude.
She said that she was then able to contact the young woman’s stepfather who chased her (Cameron-Lubin) and threatened to damage her vehicle.
The probation officer said that she has since reported the matter to the police.
Meanwhile, in a victim impact statement read to the court on behalf of the complainant by her support person Celeste Mullin who is attached to Blossom Inc., the young woman relates still being emotionally affected by the assault and having thoughts of suicide.
According to the statement, the young girl said she still feels sad and often wants to end her life, while stating that her dreams have all been shattered as she had been violated in the worst possible way.
“I wanted to leave my mother’s house as a virgin bride,” the statement quoted the young woman as saying, while adding how angry seeing Persaud makes her feel.
In a plea of mitigation on behalf of his client, defence attorney Maxwell Mc Kay asked the court to consider that from the probation report he had said he was sorry for what he had done, noting that he wanted to apologize to both the complainant and her parents.
The convict did not himself address the court.
Justice Barlow said that while the maximum sentence for the offence Persaud committed carries life imprisonment, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, she would not impose the life sentence but 18 years instead.
Further to that, she ordered that he be exposed to all programmes which the prison has that are tailored towards the rehabilitation of such offenders.
The case was heard at the Sexual Offences Court of the High Court in Georgetown.
The state’s case was led by Prosecutor Seeta Bishundial, in association with state attorneys Abigail Gibbs and Tiffini Lyken.