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Social and legal demands of victims of abuse

By Jennifer Wilson - posted Friday, 2 December 2011

In October 2010 Professor Caroline Taylor, Head of the Social Justice Research Centre at Edith Cowan University, published an article on the website of activist Melinda Tankard Reist titled "An (un) convincing argument". The article is a scathing commentary on the decision of the Tasmanian Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Tim Ellis, not to pursue any of the estimated 120 men who allegedly paid to have sex with a twelve-year-old girl. One of these men was Terence Martin, an ex Tasmanian MP. All the men had responded to a newspaper advertisement claiming that the girl “Angela” was eighteen. “Angela” was put out to prostitution by her mother and her mother’s boyfriend, both of whom are now serving custodial sentences. Professor Taylor re-iterated her position on ABC Radio when Martin was found guilty on 29 November 2011.

The matter was sub judice at the time, and the piece I wrote in rebuttal of Professor Taylor’s opinion could not be published by OLO, though Taylor’s piece was not withdrawn from Tankard Reist’s website.

In the last few days, ex Tasmanian MP Terry Martin has been found guilty of what is described in the media as “having sex with a 12-year-old girl,” and given a suspended sentence of 10 months. Justice David Porter’s sentencing comments can be read here.


The sentence has provoked outrage amongst child protection advocates, many of who are planning demonstrations across the country this weekend.

In October 2010 Mr Ellis took the unusual step of publishing a Memorandum setting out his reasons for not proceeding with the prosecution of seven of the men known to have had sexual relations with “Angela” in the Hobart Mercury.

It is unfortunate that some important aspects of the DPP’s decision were left out of Professor Taylor’s article, such as the fact that “Angela” refused to identify her abusers, and the fact that the accused men would be tried separately. This would subject “Angela” to participation in seven or eight trials, all with, according to the evidence revealed in the DPP’s Memorandum, little chance of a successful outcome. This information is highly relevant to the DPP’s decision not to proceed, and in all fairness, should have been noted in any public critique of his decision. Rather, many made the assumption that Ellis’s decision was taken solely to protect the alleged abusers. I have yet to find any motive for Ellis’s alleged desire to protect them.

It is difficult to accept that these men could have been unaware that “Angela” was underage. However, difficult as it is to accept, it is equally if not more difficult to prove that the men were ignorant of her age. They answered an advertisement for sex with an eighteen-year-old. None of them were seeking sex with a child. They were, according to the DPP, shown into a darkened room, where many of them stayed for little more than the minutes it took them to climax. There appears to be agreement between those who have seen “Angela” that she does look a good deal older than twelve. The prosecution would be required to prove beyond reasonable doubt that these men, having anticipated an 18-year-old woman, realised when they entered the room that “Angela” was much younger, and proceeded to have sexual relations with her regardless. While this may well have been the case, proving it is another story.

“Angela” was forced to service up to 200 men over a short time period. Her ability to identify them may well be impaired by their number, and the trauma of the horrific and unrelenting assault on her body and her mind and her spirit. It is hardly likely that “Angela” was in any fit state to closely observe and remember their faces, in circumstances that amount to torture.

In the DPP’s Memorandum he states that “Angela” refused to identify her abusers, and refused to give evidence against them. Martin obligingly photographed himself with Angela, but no such evidence is available in any of the other circumstances. To proceed with prosecution “Angela” must be persuaded or forced to engage in up to seven more court cases, all against her will. She has already given evidence against her mother, Gary Devine, and Terence Martin. If the DPP were to proceed with further trials, “Angela” would be embroiled in legal action for many more years of her young life, as each defendant must be tried separately.


As DPP Ellis puts it:“Repeated trials would undoubtedly increase the trauma the complainant has already suffered. Given the unlikelihood of convictions and even if there are convictions, the likely [minor] sentences the accused men would face, in my view, it is not in the public interest to repeatedly subject the complainant to giving evidence and the resulting trauma that she would as a result suffer. ”

The outcome of Martin’s trial vindicates the DPP’s reluctance to subject “Angela” to further legal proceedings with a likely unsatisfactory outcome.

It is extremely unfortunate when outrage against the perpetrators blinds us to “Angela’s” ongoing suffering. Attempting to bring these men to justice would cost her dearly, and she doesn’t want to do it. The community’s desire for retribution, while understandable, must take into account what “Angela” would have to bear in order for the community’s demands for justice to be sated. It is very easy to call for “justice” when you are not the one who is faced with enduring the process required to attain it, or the terrible uncertainty that at the end of the ordeal, “justice” may well be the last thing you’ll achieve.

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About the Author

Dr Jennifer Wilson worked with adult survivors of child abuse for 20 years. On leaving clinical practice she returned to academia, where she taught critical theory and creative writing, and pursued her interest in human rights, popular cultural representations of death and dying, and forgiveness. Dr Wilson has presented papers on human rights and other issues at Oxford, Barcelona, and East London Universities, as well as at several international human rights conferences. Her academic work has been published in national and international journals. Her fiction has also appeared in several anthologies. She is currently working on a secular exploration of forgiveness, and a collection of essays. She blogs at

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