Dennis Eldridge <em>*File photo</em>
Dennis Eldridge *File photo

FRIDAY, FEB. 17: A young boy sexually abused by a trusted family friend could take years to recover from his ordeal, according to a children’s advocate.

Sheelagh Cooper, of the Coalition for the Protection of Children, was speaking after Dennis Eldridge, of Pembroke, was sentenced to a total of 10 years in prison at Supreme Court on Wednesday after he admitted sexually abusing a boy between 2008 and 2011.

“Each situation is unique but to be sure,” she said, “with no treatment or follow-up, it can have long range life-changing consequences.”

But she added: “With the right kind of help, support and counselling, victims can recover, move on and live normal lives.

“The problem is that most young victims suffer in silence and consequently don’t get the help that they need.

“It very much depends on the nature and duration of the abuse, as well as the family support provided and the overall resilience of the individual.

The court heard that Eldridge had been a trusted friend of the boy’s family. The child cannot be identified for legal reasons.

The 47-year-old IT worker also admitted accessing child pornography on his computer.

In addition to the sentence, Mr Justice Greaves also ordered Eldridge to take part in a prison-run treatment programme for sex offenders.

Commentators on the Bermuda Sun’s Facebook page responded with outrage, suggested the sentence was too lenient and calling for a register of sex offenders.

Assistant Police Commissioner David Mirfield said: “The Bermuda Police Service takes all matters regarding the protection of vulnerable persons, especially children, extremely seriously and will investigate all reported matters with thoroughness, while giving victims the support, care and attention they require.”

Ms Cooper said: “An important consideration in sentencing cases like these – apart from the general deterrent effect – is that fact that any effective treatment for sexual offenders is a lengthy process and cannot be effectively accomplished in one or two years.

Eligible for parole

“Remember, even with a 10 year sentence, he will be eligible for parole in just over three years.”

She added: “The likelihood with these types of offenders is that so few victims ever come forward and of those who do, so few are ever taken seriously.

“There is a high degree of probability that one is looking at the tip of the iceberg – this is borne out statistically.

“Whether it is the case here we won’t know unless other victims feel empowered to come forward.”

Ms Cooper added: “At the end of the day, we as parents need to be so careful who we allow our children to spend time with without our supervision.

“We need to make sure our children know the difference between good touches and bad touches and are empowered to speak up for themselves if they feel violated and then feel okay about telling someone, no matter what the offender threatens to do.

“That is crucial as threats are so often part of the reason that children will not tell anyone what happened to them.”

A spokesman for the prison service said that a sex offender programme was run at Westgate jail by a psychologist, assisted by two specially-trained prison officers.

A spokesman for the Bermuda School of Music said Eldridge, who taught guitar, had stopped teaching at the school three years ago.

He added: “I really don’t have any comment to make other than the fact that when he was here there were no complaints of this nature made to the school.”