LEGAL EAGLE: Groping and the law

October 24, 2016

If we did not know before, we ought to know by now the word 'groping'. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines groping as "feeling about or searching blindly or to fondle for sexual pleasure against the person's will".

In recent weeks, millions of persons in the United States of America and around the world have been glued to the international media to keep abreast of the developments in the United States presidential elections with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket for their respective parties. The word 'groping' has been regularly used during the course of the media coverage of this campaign to describe Trump's alleged conduct towards, at least, nine women.

What Donald Trump allegedly did, which is called groping, was to kiss and push his hands under the skirts of several women and, in some instances, touching their private parts. In all cases, it is said, he acted without the women's consent. None of the nine complainants against Donald Trump is a minor or was a minor at the time, and not one has made a criminal complaint against him. It should be noted that Mr Trump denied all the allegations and described them as false.

In Jamaica, the Sexual Offences Act ("the Act") does not use the word grope or groping. However, under the Act, any act done by anyone similar to what Donald Trump allegedly did to the nine women in the United States may be regarded as sexual touching or indecent assault.

Section 8 of the Act deals with sexual touching of a child who is regarded, for the purposes of the Act, as a person under the age of 16. According to the section, an adult commits an offence where he or she, for a sexual purpose, touches, "directly or indirectly, with a part of his or her body or with an object, any part of the body of the child or inviting, counselling or inciting a child to touch, directly or indirectly, with a part of the body or with an object, the body of any person, including the body of an adult".

Section 13 of the Act provides, generally, however, that any person who carries out an act of indecent assault on another person commits an offence. An indecent assault is an assault accompanied by circumstances of indecency.

The Act provides that a person who commits sexual touching is liable on conviction in a Circuit Court to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years. A person convicted of indecent assault in the Parish Court is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years but if convicted in the Circuit Court, is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 15 years. Groping is, therefore, no joke under our law.

This should therefore stand as a warning to all those persons among us who are always tempted to touch a person for sexual gratification without the person's consent. Before they engage their brain to touch anyone in such a manner, they should first remember that the possibility of being locked away in a Jamaican prison for up to 15 years, is indeed, real.

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