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The savagery of abuse

By Stephen Hagan - posted Thursday, 20 December 2007

Just when you think the most vulnerable members of our Indigenous communities, women and children, are finally getting attention from the right people in positions of influence - as a consequence of the publication The Little Children Are Sacred - along comes a ruling from a judge that sets our cause back to the days of the caveman.

With no offence intended for devotees of the caveman I’m aghast at the audacity of Cairns-based District Court Judge Sarah Bradley to not impose a custodial sentence for the nine perpetrators who pleaded guilty to the pack rape of a 10-year-old girl in the remote Cape York Indigenous community of Aurukun.

Tony Koch, chief reporter of The Australian, wrote on December 10 the most probing yet nauseating account of child abuse I have ever read.


Under the dramatic front page headline "Child rape sentence pathetic" Koch lays bare the savagery of abuse that continues to afflict not only Aurukun but lamentably a significant number of our remote Indigenous communities.

Former Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough raised another frightful sexual assault on a minor in Parliament on September 12 last year when he said: "I am … aware of the allegation of the rape of a 12-year-old boy in Maningrida in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory ... [the boy] was raped by five juveniles and five adults from that community."

In his article Koch reported “Nine males who pleaded guilty last month to gang-raping a 10-year-old girl at the Aurukun Aboriginal community on Cape York have escaped a prison term, with the sentencing judge saying the child victim ‘probably agreed’ to have sex with them”.

I had to stop reading when I read the phrase “probably agreed” as it sat so incongruously with my perceptions of what I believed a judge’s stance on such issues would be: I simply had to go over those words again in case I misread Koch’s article.

The reason I was so incensed by that particular observation of the judge is because I have a daughter who has only just turned 12. In many ways the age of the victim plays appreciably into this debate, as does race, and only exacerbates the significance of those wretched words from an eminent judicial figure who, incidentally, is also the President of the Australian Association of Women Judges and a member of the District Court Judges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Committee.

To make matters worse, if it can be so, Koch’s article also referred to Judge Bradley’s order that the six teenage juveniles not even have a conviction recorded for the 2005 offence, and that they be placed on a 12-month probation order. When sentencing the co-accused on October 24 at Aurukun, Judge Bradley noted: "The girl involved was not forced and she probably agreed to have sex with all of you."


Once again I’m flabbergasted at this unpardonable call by the judge and pose the obvious question - how can a 10-year-old girl consent willingly to participate in an unlawful act?

The State Attorney General Kerry Shine commenting on ABC radio on the day the story broke said, “It really is hard to imagine how these sentences are in line with community expectations. Under Queensland law a child under 12 cannot give consent to sexual intercourse.”

This case has clearly demonstrated a strong argument in favour of permanently relieving the judge of her duties - a position which she can no longer hold with any credibility.

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About the Author

Stephen Hagan is Editor of the National Indigenous Times, award winning author, film maker and 2006 NAIDOC Person of the Year.

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