Timor-Leste urged to respect ‘sex abuse victims’

Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) [Hong Kong]

December 8, 2021

By Ryan Dagur

A legal advocacy group in Timor-Leste has called on people in the Catholic-majority country to show respect for the alleged sex abuse victims of former priest Richard Daschbach.

In a public statement on Dec. 6, Jurídico Social Consultoria (JU,S) which represents the complainants, said it is important “to recognize that the victims and their families, and the society as a whole, have endured immense pain and suffering as a consequence of the acts that led to this case.”

JU,S  has urged members of the public to use restraint while publishing statements “aimed at demeaning, intimidating and harassing our sisters for solely choosing to use the available legal procedure to demand redress for their rights.”  

JU,S said that its efforts to pursue the case posed many challenges. “These included messages of hatred and of a xenophobic nature, incitements of violence on social media and within the local community against JU,S staff, and a direct threat by the accused to kill one of the partners of the firm,” it elaborated.

There were instances of false accusations and misleading information concerning the case and the group being circulated on local online news outlets to pressurize them.

It was “evidence of the fact that gender stereotypes were still prevalent in Timorese society, such as the perception that the value of a woman is measured by her virginity and the mere suspicion of having been subjected to sexual abuse diminishes her dignity as a human being and the idea that if there is a delay in reporting sexual violence, the allegations must be false,” the JU,S statement said.

However, the group said that despite the challenges faced and the court’s final decision, the process itself had brought positive results.

“It is now clearer than before that no one in Timor-Leste should be above the law. As happens with economic crimes, such as the crime of corruption, Timor-Leste’s judicial system is ready to demand accountability from everyone, irrespective of their social status,” it said.

The trial, which started in February at the Oecusse District Court, 200 kilometers west of capital Dili, ended on Nov. 26 and the verdict is expected on Dec. 21.

Daschbach, a former Society of the Divine Word priest who was sacked by the Vatican in 2018, is charged with molesting young girls and domestic violence, besides possessing child pornography, at Topu Honis, a shelter he founded in 1993 in Kutet, Oecusse.

Portuguese news agency Lusa reported that the prosecutor had asked in closing arguments for a minimum sentence of 18 years in prison for the American ex-priest, while the defense lawyer requested an acquittal for all crimes.

During the trial, 14 alleged victims were heard, eight of whom were asked to testify in the courtroom.