Warning: this post may be distressing for survivors of abuse. This story defies belief. Earlier this year a 41 year old woman in Tasmania was charged with prostituting her 12-year-old daughter. The mother and her partner, Gary Devine placed advertisements in local newspapers stating that the girl who they dubbed “Angela”, was 18.
It is alleged that they then rented a hotel room on weekends and prostituted the little girl. Authorities say that some of the money was given to the girl, while Devine and her mother spent the rest on drugs and paying off debts. As you do when you prostitute your 12 year old daughter.
Police estimate that the girl was forced to have sex with about 120 men during this time. Let’s remember that she was 12. Not yet a teenager and having sex against her will. She was in fact raped. By 120 different men. At 12 years old.
Gary Devine and the mother are currently serving 10-year sentences. The girl and her two sisters, aged 5 and 15 are living in foster care.
The family were known to child care workers and the care and protection order she was under was terminated at the same time as the little girl was being forced to have sex with older men in a hotel room in Hobart.
But to make it even worse (as if it could get worse) police have announced that none of the other men who had sex with the 12-year-old would be charged because they believed the child in question was 18 years old. How the hell is this possible? Let alone just.
Professor S. Caroline Taylor explains in part….
Our legal system is premised on the notion that police lay charges where there is evidence that a crime has been committed according to the rules of the law. Yet in this case the DPP has determined that not one, not two, not three, not four, but a series of men charged with paying to have sex with a child all really believed that a 12-year-old ward of the state was an adult. To be clear, the Director of Public Prosecution has used his discretion to void all charges on the grounds that he found every one of their arguments “convincing”. I wonder how many “arguments” they actually had? Or did they amount to the one generic excuse: they could not tell the difference between a primary school age child and a female aged 18.
A Tasmanian MP, Terry Martin, was, however, charged earlier in relation to the 12-year-old. He allegedly filmed the child giving him oral sex. Of course he should be pursued. But why him and not the other 120 men?
While the DPP may exercise discretion not to proceed with a case they do not believe is in the public interest or where the evidence is wholly insufficient, a case as serious as this should not have been remedied with his private deliberations. It appears the DPP determined himself as both judge and jury. In a case as serious as this, involving a child – one of society’s most vulnerable members – prostituted to numerous adult men, we are told that the DPP alone determined the authenticity of the excuses of a group of men who would normally be charged with the sexual abuse of a child. (And their computers probably searched for child pornography). It is important to recognise that in a case involving the relentless sexual, emotional, and psychological abuse of a child, Mr Ellis has accepted the various excuses of the men involved and effectively protected these men from further scrutiny.
The DPP has the right to use discretion to veto cases for prosecution. But I am staggered that charges against a string of men, for the same offences, were dropped on the subjective assessment of one man. This decision, I believe, denied our society the opportunity to determine the authenticity of the excuses relied on by the accused men. It could well have been an opportunity for society to determine the setting of our collective moral compass. Questions of law are not matters that should be adjudicated and determined singularly and behind closed doors. What happened to the concept of open, transparent and public justice?
This case is more than questions of law. It is also to do with questions of decency, of morality, and the ethical treatment of vulnerable girls. The sexual abuse of children is all too rampant in our society. Adults prostituting a child – their own child in this case – is not rare, I am sad to say.
Justice was not served, either in practice, or in principle. The excuses relied on by a group of men charged with a crime against a child should have been held up to scrutiny in a courtroom. Not the elite office of the DPP.
So if we follow this unusual logic, can we expect that the DPP would instruct the Tasmanian police not to charge numerous traffic offenders if those offenders claimed they “truly thought it was 100 km and not 60km”? And would they not truly prosecute a gang of burglars who “convincingly” persuaded the DPP that they either thought the items they stole were actually there for the taking, or that the men had a forgivable inability to comprehend the concept of ownership? Their claims to a criminal offence would be tested within the courtroom, not pardoned by one man’s subjective assessment.
This child was denied justice and a voice. She was also denied any sense of her humanity, her vulnerability, her suffering. Society was denied the opportunity to demonstrate that we have evolved our social and moral landscape and will not tolerate the sexual abuse, misuse and trafficking of children. The outcry from the public and members of the judiciary and legal field are, I think, testament to this claim – that we are capable of recognising and addressing revolting crimes against children.
The failure of the DPP to present the case at court represents, to my mind, an abject failure to both challenge the law to listen to the plight of children, and to challenge those who sexually prey upon them.
About the author: Professor S. Caroline Taylor is the Foundation Chair in Social Justice and Head of the Social Justice Research Centre at Edith Cowan University. She is also the Founder and Chair of Children of Phoenix Organisation, a charity that provides scholarships and mentoring support to children, adolescents and adults affected by childhood sexual abuse.
This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on MTR and has been republished here with full permission
NAPCAN is an organisation helping to prevent child abuse and neglect and to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all of Australia’s children. If you think a child has been abused or neglected, you must ring your local child protection authority or the police.
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 call 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.
So that is the excuse the DPP is going with? The men believed she was 18? Even IF she was 18 , she was being prostituted by her mother. What are your thoughts? I am too angry to even give voice to my own.