Wheatley said his comments may have appeared to be inconsiderate but this was never his intention.
“During one of my COI appearances, I was asked about a Belonger status application for a sentenced rapist. My response to the false notion that he (the said convict) received it came across as being insensitive to the victim and offensive to many. This was no way intentional and I do sincerely apologise for giving that impression,” Wheatley said in a statement this week.
The Immigration Minister had said to the COI that the considerations to grant Belongership to the convicted rapist were made by the government on a ‘humanitarian’ basis. He had also told the COI he knew the convicted rapist’s parents and was sympathetic to their appeal to have their son in the territory with them. Wheatley had received backlash from members of the community who had accused him of being insensitive to the rape victim as well as to members of the territory who have been victims of sexual assault and rape.
In the meantime, Wheatley delivered his apology for those comments on Tuesday as the territory observes an event dubbed 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.
Wheatley also used his address on Tuesday to bring awareness to what he described as a worsening situation of domestic violence in the territory.
He noted the COVID-19 pandemic has made gender-based violence against women and children worse because they had to spend more time at home with abusers especially during the period of lockdown.
Wheatley said efforts to combat gender-based violence is a collective effort for members of the BVI community.
“Government, governmental agencies, the private sector and as a people we should all be accountable for our commitment to gender equality and should be transparent about how we support women. We need to be transparent about how we provide meaningful support, safety, resilience and well-being of women and girls including those facing intersectional discrimination on the basis of age, sexuality, ethnicity or social circumstances,” the minister said.
“When gender equality becomes a collective priority in our global fight to eradicate violence, the observation of 16 days would fall into obscurity eclipsed by a focus on building societies where women and men are equals and vital to the stability of growth. To deny equal participation in an economy solely based on gender is to short change the future of that nation… As a people, as a government, we must do all that we can to adapt [and] promote a zero-tolerant policy among any form of violence against women,” Wheatley added.
As the Virgin Islands tries to eradicate violence against women and children, people in the community who fear that their lives may be in danger are encouraged to contact the police at 311 or contact the Social Development Department, the Family Support Network at 468-3650 or the Office of Gender Affairs at 468-2234 for psychosocial support.