Trigger warning: This post deals with child abuse and sexual assault.
Kyhesha-Lee’s tiny broken body told a heart-rending story: She had been dying for several days from a blow to her abdomen so severe that her bowel had been perforated. She had lacerations to her vagina, indicating that she had been “sexually interfered with” over a period of time.
Two men were arrested over Kyhesha-Lee’s death: Her father, Matthew Lee Williamson, 30, and a man who boarded at the house, Christopher Arthur Neville Kent, aged 46. Both were charged with manslaughter.*
Yesterday, Kent pleaded guilty to that charge, conceding that he was criminally negligent when it came to Kyhesha-Lee’s care. He was not the child’s father. He was not the child’s carer (though he had taken care for the child on occasion). He just happened to live in the filthy house where a grievous crime occurred.
Prosecutors said in bail hearings for the pair that Kent lived in the unit and slept in the lounge room at the time of the little girl’s death. He knew Williamson would allegedly lock the child in a bedroom for so long it caused her to urinate and defecate while trapped there. The home was “squalid” and blood stains were found around the house. Kyhesha-Lee’s blood was found on Kent’s shorts.
Yesterday, Justice Martin in the Queensland Supreme Court said, although Kent was not a parent, he had turned a blind-eye to the crimes against her. The judge said that although Kent’s duty to the child was lower, it would have been clear to him that Kyhesha-Lee was “seriously unwell”.
Kyhesha-Lee, at just three-years-old, died a “lonely and painful death” – and Kent, through his silence, was complicit in that death.
He walked free of court yesterday when his two year sentence was suspended. He has spent 19 months behind bars awaiting trial, and Justice Martin decided that was sufficient.
There is no doubt that Kyhesha-Lee was failed by Kent, a man who occasionally took care of her. A man who had her blood on his clothes and in his home. A man who likely saw, heard and smelled her suffering.
A man who did nothing.
Given the depth of his depraved indifference to a child’s distress, it’s disturbing that Kent walked free yesterday.
Kent’s criminal history is long, and involves a number of assault offences, including an old conviction for sexual assault.
This time his crime was inaction. His crime was knowing a little girl was in pain and walking away.
And his crime, his silence, is as heinous as any act that physically tormented this child.
Watch a clip of Arthur Kent dodging street traffic after his release below. Post continues after video…
Parents and care-givers have a legal obligation to protect their children from harm. Kent lived with Kyhesha-Lee and occasionally took care of her, so that responsibility to protect her extended to him. His neglect of the three-year-old was criminal.
But it’s likely that Kent was not the only one who failed Kyhesha-Lee.
In her short time on this planet, she must have come into contact with many people. In the pictures we have seen she is a smiling and happy cherub – but her injuries show that those smiles were probably rare.
No doubt there are people living with the guilt of suspecting this little girl was being mistreated, but doing nothing.
There are probably many reasons why no-one saw Kyhesha-Lee’s suffering and no-one raised the alarm.
Our child protection services are under-funded and over-worked. As are our health services. There are systemic issues that go some way to explaining why Kyhesha-Lee died.
But as a community, we failed her too. We weren’t there in that house, and we’re nowhere near as culpable as the man who saw a rope securing a little girl’s bedroom door and pretended nothing was happening – yet, how often have we walked past a child in need? How often have we heard about children in dire circumstances? How often have we turned away, embarrassed, inconvenienced or disinterested? How often have we bought the excuses? How easily have we brushed off responsibility for children our community should hold precious?
Kent’s silence was a crime. His silence was brutal. And his silence was culpable.
But what is ours?
- Williamson will appear in court on 1 April. This post concerns itself only with Kent’s guilty plea, and does not reflect on William’s culpability for the one count of manslaughter he has been charged with.