Australian Judge Slammed and Prosecutor Facing Investigation for Lenient Punishment in Gang-rape Case

by Medindia Content Team on  December 13, 2007 at 1:11 PM Child Health News
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Australian Judge Slammed and Prosecutor Facing Investigation for Lenient Punishment in Gang-rape Case
A female judge hands down only suspended sentences to nine persons accused of gang-raping a ten-year-old aboriginal girl.

Prosecutor Steve Carter describes the 2006 assault as "childish experimentation" and consensual "in a general sense.

Predictably the nation is on the boil, and there are calls for the judge's resignation.

Reacting, Queensland Attorney-General Kerry Shine says the state government will appeal the decision and also that the conduct of the prosecutor would be investigated.

"I am truly horrified by the circumstances of these offences," Kerry Shine said, adding that the law should be consistent in its application among indigenous and white communities.
One senior child safety officer has been sacked and two others suspended for 12 months. The girl is now in the care of the Child Safety Department.

The assault happened in Aurukun on Cape York, which has a history of rioting and drunken violence. Some of the girl's attackers are said to be from prominent families in the area, while she comes from a less privileged background.

In passing sentence, Sarah Bradley, a Cairns-based district court judge said that she accepted the girl involved "was not forced and ... probably agreed to have sex with all of you but you were taking advantage of a 10-year-old girl and she needs to be protected". The judge reminded the group of nine that it is an offence to have sex with a girl under the age of 16.

She only gave suspended sentences and probation orders to three adults, aged 17 to 26, one of whom was a repeat sex offender, and six juveniles, aged 14 to 16.

The verdict has been greeted with outrage and disbelief across Australia, which has been wrestling with the problem of child sex abuse in indigenous communities after a report, Little Children Are Sacred, earlier this year said the problem was widespread and endemic.

Indigenous leaders said it sent a terrible message to vulnerable girls and women living in fear in Australia's indigenous communities.

"If this was a white girl in white suburban Brisbane ... there's no way they would have walked out of court," said a child protection campaigner, Hetty Johnston.

Boni Robertson, an academic, called for the judge to step down while there was an inquiry. "It's undermined everything we have worked for over the last 10 years to get our women justice in this country," she said.

Kevin Rudd, the new Labor prime minister, said he was "appalled and disgusted" by the details of the case.

The state government has already ordered a review of around 75 sexual assault cases in Cape York over the past two years.

The deputy opposition leader in Queensland, Mark McArdle, also called for an inquiry. "Children cannot give their consent," he said.

The child - who cannot be named - was gang-raped at the age of seven itself in Aurukun in 2002, and was later put into foster care with a non-indigenous family in Cairns.

However, child safety officers in April 2006 returned her to Aurukun, where she was raped again at the age of 10.

Premier Anna Bligh admitted the Child Safety Department had failed the girl.

"I think it is very important to understand, and I don't resile from the fact for one moment, the system clearly failed this little girl," Ms Bligh told reporters.

But she said the government took immediate action by disciplining the officers involved, moving the child, and improving child safety processes.

Ms Bligh could not give a reason for the officers' decision to return the girl to Aurukun, but said it should never have happened.

While the Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare declined to comment, her office released transcripts of the court case.

They revealed that during the case, Carter described the incident - in which the girl contracted a sexually transmitted disease - as "consensual sex".

"To the extent I can't say it was consensual in the legal sense, but in the other - in the general sense, the non-legal sense - yes, it was," Carter told the court.

Carter said the sex had been prearranged and the males had not forced themselves on the girl.

"... they're very naughty for doing what they're doing but it's really, in this case, it was a form of childish experimentation, rather than one child being prevailed upon by another," he said.

Carter also told the court such incidents were not out of character in small, remote communities.

" ... children, females, have got to be - deserve - the same protection under the law in an Aboriginal or an indigenous community as they do in any other community," Carter said.

"But sometimes things happen in a small community when children get together."

The girl is now in the care of the Child Safety Department away from Aurukun.

Source: Medindia

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