Name change helps paedophiles keep going

Nils Niitra
, reporter
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Photo: Toomas Huik

Every year up to ten criminals change their names, the law no longer a limit.

Disgusting and depressing again and again to read about paedophiles abusing children. At that, a large part of the readers demand that the paedophiles be totally isolated or at least coercively castrated. And the officials put on a sad face and promise to do something.  

For years, there’s been the talk about a public or at least semi-public register of paedophiles. Still, it has not come and probably will never be – the paedophiles, also, need their personal data protected. Even deeper my amazement to learn that the earlier ban on jailed crooks to change names was done totally away with, in 2010 already.

Yearly, at least ten inmates in Estonia have their first and/or family names changed. «At least», I say, because there’s no precise statistics and, according to interior ministry Personal Names Committee members, five to ten such applications arrive from jailhouses. Meanwhile, in many cases names may also be changed in county governments and about that there’s no overview whatsoever.

This year also, a couple of the up-to-ten applications have been penned by paedophiles – soon to walk free. Actually, we might just as well write «at least a couple» of these, as all the names committee people can do is Google the names. They are not checking their backgrounds in punishment register as that would make no sense – punishment register data are no basis to refuse the change... Also, not all paedophilia cases make it to the media.

With people really wishing to change their lives and also the names, it may occasionally perhaps be justified. When it comes to paedophiles, however, the common knowledge goes the sickness is very hard to cure and they tend to do it again. The more so that the paedophiles are able to craftily hide their true motives and such people are found in all segments of the society. Meanwhile, it needs to be added that paedophilia is a psychiatric diagnosis and not all who have committed sexual crimes towards minors are paedophiles.

According to Enel Pungas, head of interior ministry population operations department and chairman of  personal name committee, she feels that more criminals are applying for name change than prior to the 2010 amendment removing limitations on frequency thereof.

«If anybody opts to take the grandmother’s family name, say, these issues are settled at county government,» she said. «When entering the name into Internet search engine, then a couple of times a year, perhaps, we have discovered the people mentioned in media as related to paedophilia.»

Minister supports limits

Earlier, the law said that with people under punishment applying for name change just for the reason of avoiding social or economic harm out of current name, the application was denied.

However, the law had its weak spot – the same person had the option to come up with a new reason, like the desire to assume some other family name in the family tree. Therefore, the limit was essentially not working and instead of making the law better, the crooks clause was deleted altogether.

According to interior minister Hanno Pevkur, smarter solutions should have been sought, thus making the limits work.

«I personally think lawgivers could seriously consider name change limits to those committing certain types of crimes. That might regard paedophiles and other sexual offenders, as well as some other acts of violence,» he noted.

According to Mr Pevkur, we must also take a look at judicial practice: would the name change restriction be classified as additional punishment. In that case, a problem may arise: as the person has carried the punishment, courts may not allow the name change ban any longer as that would be considered an additional punishment.

According to Estonian Parents Union chairman Enn Kirsman, name change restriction ought to apply to incurable serial offenders.

«Well it is a bit scary if they exit the prisons with names changed,» he said. «If a family with children get a new neighbour, or a single mother with kids finds a new husband, it would be good if the mother might Google the spouse’s past. With a name altered, what good will Googling do?»

Interior ministry population operations department advisor Eve Mitin said that up to July 2010 only interior minister had the right to change names; since then, the simpler applications are solved by county government officials on the spot. «If a person wants a name from the family tree, as a rule it can be done at county government,» she explained.

Rather automatically, the family name of some parent, grandparent or great-grandparent may be assumed at county government. When desiring to go even further back in time, the issue will be discussed by personal names committee. People may also take [foreign, often German – edit] family names from before «Estonianization». Name change will be decided by interior minister as advised by personal names committee.

All names new

Thus, a prisoner may have it easier now to change names that the ordinary citizen: always, he may declare he wishes to avoid harmful consequences of social and economic kind. Rather logically, a person pout of jail will find it harder to land a job. According to Ms Mitin, changes to Names Act will be weighed next year and the criminals’ problem will also be considered.

Among the criminals, a minority is seeking to change both first and family name. Usually, it is the family name that gets altered. «Often they assume family names from among forebears,» said Ms Pungas.

Ms Pungas said she has at times raised the issue at personal names committee of whether criminals ought to have name change restrictions applied. «On the other hand, there are the people at the committee who say the person has already borne the penalty,» she said. «Even so, the establishments that hire these people do have all the rights and options to check the backgrounds.»

But as ordinary people do not do the personal identification code based background checks, Ms Pungas still thinks the restriction issue needs to be raised again. Currently, a rare «no» is managed to applications by crooks citing some other reasons.

«We can decline when the name desired is not fitting – like when they want a foreign name,» specified Ms Pungas.

The best-known name-changing Estonian Paedophile is Toomas H. Liiv turned into Toomas Meola. He changed names when getting married. «The right to change names getting married cannot be denied anyway,» added the official.

According to Police and Border Guard Board development department misdemeanour proceedings bureau chief Priit Heinsoo, criminals may indeed change names but not the personal identification code. «If a person wants to go work someplace and en excerpt from criminal register in required, that is always done according to personal identification code,» he said.

Ms Pungas said the name-changers aren’t a problem for the state anyhow – the state will always find them out. «Can’t hide from the state. But they can hide from other people,» she said.