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He raped his own daughter and after the court hearing he walked free.

NOTE: This is stock image.
NOTE: This is stock image.

 

TRIGGER WARNING: This article deals with an account of rape/sexual assault and may be triggering for survivors of abuse.

By MAMAMIA TEAM

In a Sydney courtroom, a 19-year-old woman crumples in anguish. Outside, a man leaves the Supreme Court in Sydney. He is wearing a crisp, dark grey pinstriped suit. His hair is cut short. He looks like every other businessman on the street. He raises a hand to shield his face from the photographers who are waiting for him.

This 55-year-old Australian man has been found guilty of raping his own daughter. He has been convicted of raping his daughter over a period of five years, starting from when she was only nine-years-old.

The 19-year-old woman inside the courtroom is that nine-year-old girl; all grown up now. She suffers from serious mental and medical problems. She has tried to take her own life and has recently been re-admitted to hospital, as she continues her battle against severe depression.

And yet the man who did this to her has not received a prison sentence.

Instead, he was sent to spend time at Cedar Cottage: a treatment centre in Sydney for people who are guilty of incest. During hisntime in the programthe program, this man admitted to yet more cases of sexual assault against his daughter. After confessing to these additional crimes, he was placed on a three-year good bahaviour bond.

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And the public is asking: How is that even possible?

To outsiders, courts are confusing, scary and hard to understand. Because we hear mostly of cases where it appears on the surface that justice has not been done, we often forget that most of the time people receive the punishment they deserve. But this is one case where someone with a thorough understanding of the system, who knows that it generally results in fair outcomes, also thinks that the court has not achieved justice.

It is not just the public who are frustrated and calling for a harsher punishment – this time someone with power is joining in. Currently, there is an appeal against the convicted man’s seemingly sentence. But it is not coming from the prosecution. Nor is it from the defence. It is the NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith who has stepped forward to intervene, saying that the man’s punishment is “manifestly inadequate”.

The Attorney-General has tasked the Crown Solicitor with lodging an appeal against the good behaviour bond sentence, saying: “I was deeply disturbed by the circumstances of this case … The sexual assault of a child is an outrageous breach of trust and the penalty must reflect the seriousness of the offence.”

A simultaneous case is also being played out, as the 19-year-old victim attempts to sue her father for punitive damages. Her lawyer, Greg Walsh, said, “She is doing this because she can’t get justice anywhere else.”

The father’s defence in this case is that he claims his daughter’s suicidal tendencies and depression are not his fault. Essentially, he “cannot concede that all [her] mental and physical health problems are due to the sexual abuse. [She] has resided in refuges and rented accommodation by choice.”

A lot of the facts remain unclear in this case, but essentially: during the trial the prosecution (the representatives for the young woman) were not seeking a prison sentence. Instead, they sought to refer him to Cedar Cottage. This may be because the man confessed to the crimes – and people who plead early may sometimes get a reduced (or even non-custodial) sentence.

Attorney-General Greg Smith
The Attorney-General Greg Smith
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There are many reasons the prosecution may not have pushed for a harsher sentence. Possibly because the man had confessed. Possibly because it was in their interests to finish the case as quickly as possible – and allow the victim to get on with her life as quickly as possible.

And maybe because, after asking for a light sentence, they could hardly demand a harsher one when the judge handed down a light sentence.

But the fact remains that the maximum jail sentence for the crimes involved was 20 years. In comparison, a three-year good behaviour bond seems grossly inadequate.

And that’s why the Attorney-General has stepped in. It is the job of the AG to take into account public expectations around justice. And, in this case, it is clear that the public would not see this criminal sentencing as just. The danger of light sentences such as these sends a troubling message that the crimes are themselves not serious. That if you rape your nine-year-old daughter, you may only be handed a good behaviour bond.

This is not the message that the Australian courts should be sending to criminals. And it is also not the message that courts should be sending to victims of serious crimes: step forward, bare your soul, and the person who committed atrocities against you will walk free.

It is important that court cases are dealt with efficiently, certainly – but not at the expense of the victim.

Never at the expense of the victim.

Please note if this post or any of the comments bring up any issues for you, or if you need to speak to someone please 1800-RESPECT or the NSW Rape Crisis Centre on 1800 424 017.  It does not matter where about you live in Australia, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

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