Rape sentencing – a global issue

// 10 December 2007

It’s not just the UK which suffers embarrassing judicial responses to rape trials. Now Australia has also had the same problem as a judge failed to imprison a group of men who gangraped a ten year old claiming the girl had probably consented.

Australia has long tried to grapple with institutional racism against aboriginal peoples and this seems to be a continuation of that problem. The child in this case was an aboriginal child raped by aboriginal men. The racism comes from the sentencing of a white judge who claimed that the child “was not forced and she probably agreed to have sex with all of you. ” From The Courier-Mail. This comes fast on the heels of another case in which the repeated rape of a 15 year old was defended in Court by an anthropologist as just exercising his traditional rights and not, therefore, abuse. Other anthropologists have strongly contradicted this claiming this interpretation is a white persons creation to justify the racism against aboriginal people and continuing discrimination. The fifty year old man received a one-month custodial sentence and a 23 month suspended sentence and had claimed he was acting within tribal convention in which girls had no right to consent (or not) to sex. The communities are still reeling from yet another case in which an aboriginal elder was accussed of the rape of a number of children ranging from 17 months in age including the gang rape of a 3 year old.

The rapists, four under the age of 16 and three aged 17, 18 and 26 years old come from the most prominent and powerful Aboriginal families in the area of Cape York, Queensland. One is a repeat sex offender. All nine men involved pleaded guilty, the other two had been previously sentenced. All received probation and suspended sentences rather than custodial sentences. The child involved has been removed from her family into the care system – therefore not only has she suffered a massive traumatic violation but now she has been isolated from her community and her family whilst the perpetrators are free to return to the aboriginal community.

The judge involved, Sarah Bradley, is now being called down upon to resign. Aboriginal and child protection campaigners have responded with an outcry. Hetty Johnston, a child protection campaigner, has argued that “If this was a white girl in white suburban Brisbane’ there’s no way the defendants would have walked out of court,” said child protection campaigner Hetty Johnston. Aboriginal academic Professor Boni Robertson from Griffith University has called on the judge to step down until an inquiry is completed. Robertson has said that “There is nothing that would ever justify the outcome of the case, which has set back the cause of indigenous womens’ rights. It’s actually undermined everything we have worked for over the last 10 years to get our women justice in this country.” Robertson has gone on to say that:

“There is something even more sinister – it’s actually give a very clear message to perpetrators out there generally. I don’t care that they are black, white or whatever, I think it’s allowed perpetrators to think if you can come up with a defence that she asked for it or she condoned it, then that gives them a sense of leniency.” From The Courier-Mail

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