I have personally blogged and made many comments on Social Media about the joke system that we call the justice system in Australia. I was contacted by a Facebook Friend and we had a discussion around this topic and I invited her to be a guest blogger and share her story….Here it is.
The irony is not lost on me that during Child Protection Week, Judge Burnett sentenced a convicted child sex offender to 3 months jail for sexually assaulting an 8 year old girl. That 8 year old girl was me and the attack occurred 31 years ago.
My perpetrator was charged with 3 counts of Indecent Treatment of a child under 16, under 12. He was found guilty on one count and the jury was hung on the other 2 counts. Because the attack occurred 31 years ago the maximum allowable sentence for each count was 10 years imprisonment (it’s now 20 years). His full sentence was 15 months imprisonment, suspended after 3 months with an operational period of 2 years.
This means he’s free after serving just 3 months but if he’s convicted of anything within the next 2 years the judge could decide he goes back to jail to serve the other 12 months.
I went into this process expecting to be let down by the judicial system. I don’t mean the police officers, prosecutors, the jury or my Victim Liaison Officer – these people did the best job that they could. I meant, I knew I’d be let down by the judge and I was.
This was not the first time this sex offender had been before the courts for crimes against children. He has previously been convicted of charges relating to child pornography. He didn’t only have images of children, he took explicit and disgusting images of children. For these crimes that he pleaded guilty to he received a 12 month fully suspended sentence. In other words he walked away from that sentencing hearing a free man.
Even though I knew I’d be let down by the judge, it was still a kick to the stomach when my Victim Liaison Officer told me he was sentenced to 3 months imprisonment. I know that she heard the disappointment in my voice and it must be a really crappy part of her job to inform victims of these grossly inadequate sentences that our judges hand out.
This in an extract from my Victim Impact Statement that I had hoped would bear some weight into the sentence my perpetrator would receive. I have left paragraphs out of the original because of the deeply personal details that I’m not willing to share and I’ve left out the offender’s name because I was not his only victim and I’m respecting their right to their privacy:
“I write this statement as a 39 year old woman, not the 8 year old little girl that was violated and I debated writing this victim impact statement because I didn’t want ***** or anyone else to know how much damage had been done to me. But why shouldn’t he know?…..
Why shouldn’t he know of the deep hurt and shame that his perverse and vile actions caused that night. Hurt and shame that caused me to be angry or emotional or to cry for no other reason than the damage that he caused to my soul and spirit.
***** should be the one that is ashamed not me.
***** should have been the one to describe to the police in detail what he did to me when I was a little girl and then go out and sit in his car and cry with shame and humiliation, not me. The depth of detail I had to go in to with the police were details that I had never shared with my own husband or trusted friends let alone a complete stranger.
The guilt, the shame, the humiliation belongs not on me but on ***** for his perverted and evil desire to seek sexual gratification from an 8 year old girl…..
It had been my hope that ***** would have the courage to take responsibility for his actions, thus sparing me the emotional trauma of having to again relive the horror of what he inflicted upon me.
I had hoped that he would have the courage to plead guilty so that I would not have to share with complete strangers the firsthand details of the night he invaded my 8 year old innocence. But instead of him having the courage to take accountability for his actions, I have had to be courageous.
I am a private and guarded person and I have had to sit in a courtroom and share with people I don’t know, the explicit and detestable details of *****’s actions towards me. Not only share with them the details of what he did to me but then have his defence attorneys claim on his behalf that I was lying.
But I was never the liar. From the day he directed his perverse and evil sexual desire towards me ***** has denied, he has lied and he has manipulated so that he could avoid taking responsibility for his actions.
There is a lot I don’t remember about all the events of that night. What happened before or after ***** sexually assaulted me but the disgusting images of what ***** did to me will forever be etched in my memory. For a long time I just put what he did to me out of my mind and never thought about it because thinking about it brought back the fear, the shame, the humiliation and the disgust. Disgust that causes my stomach to churn like a bucket of vomit does.
Over the years I have gotten very good at ignoring my feelings and separating my older self from that scared little girl who was sexually abused 31 years ago but through this process of making a formal complaint and going to court I have had to confront my fear. Fear that I have carried for 31 years. Fear that has had a negative impact on my life. Fear that caused me to be wary of male strangers sitting too close to me – especially on public transport. Fear that causes me to lash out whenever I feel threatened even when the threat is only perceived and not real. Fear that makes me feel uncomfortable in dresses or skirts because if someone was to try and sexually assault me again they make for quicker and easier access to inside my underwear than a pair of pants.
I thought that after 31 years I would be “over it”. That the abuse I endured would no longer have a negative effect on my life but from the moment the police knocked on my door and asked if I would like to make a formal statement I have had to relive the nightmare over and over and over again.
Our actions can create a ripple effect on other people’s lives. *****’s depraved actions caused more than a ripple effect, they created a tsunami wave on my life. In all the things that you have heard and need to consider in handing down *****’s sentence I ask that you would make special consideration on three things:
1. The maximum allowable sentence for the crimes ***** has committed.
2. Community expectations for the sentencing of sexual assaults against children.
3. The value of a child’s innocence.
I ask that you hand down a sentence that tells me my innocence mattered, that what ***** did to me was evil and wrong. Not just for me but for every victim of sexual assault – that we are worthy of the full weight of our judicial system.”
The value that Judge Burnett put on my innocence was 3 months imprisonment. I’ve seen traffic offenders get more jail time than that!
Because I was a victim of a violent crime and my perpetrator was found guilty I can apply to the Queensland Government for financial assistance to help me recover from this crime. 10 pages to fill out including the medical certificate documents and getting my ID verified and witnessed. Then it’s a 9 -12 month wait before my application will even be looked at! By then my perpetrator will be freed from jail and well on his way to getting on with his life.
With facing the trauma of testifying, having to relive the original nightmare, having a defence attorney find multiple ways of calling you a liar and then grossly inadequate sentences being handed out by judges, is there any wonder why victims don’t pursue criminal charges against their perpetrator?
But we must. We have to speak up. We have to be brave so that evil will not prevail.
It took 4 years from when the police knocked on my door (they were given my name by another victim) to when my perpetrator was sentenced. A 4 year emotional roller coaster that ended with 3 months jail. 3 months in a specialised section of Wacol jail to keep him protected from the other inmates – it seems prison officers know what happens to paedophiles in jail.
To quote a friend “I could be all spiritual about the fact that God is the one who will give the ultimate justice but the fact is, it’s a crap outcome in the here and now.”
Confidential information, counselling and support service can be found at 1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732