Tuesday, 11 December 2007

A fair go for Judge Bradley?

CairnsBlog contributing writer Sid Walker writes about morals and the shocking incident in Aurukun...


Few topics in Australian society are more likely to engender ‘moral panics’ than Aborigines, children and sex.

By ‘moral panics’ I mean artificially hyped-up media campaigns about ‘hot’ issues, usually promoting a simplistic thesis based on selective use of the available information and / or false premises.

So, when a ten year old Aboriginal girl had sex with several, mostly juvenile males, the incident had all the makings of a big media story.

The odd thing is how long it took for the story to make it big time.

Two years after the incident in question – and more than a month after a Cairns judge passed sentence on the accused – suddenly it has become the topic of the moment, nationwide.

Like so many moral panics of our times, it began with a report in the Murdoch media - a report amplified around the land within hours by News Ltd's many, many other ‘organs’.

Today, little more than 24 hours later, there are no less than 29 pages of Google News Search results (with duplicate articles included) for the search terms “Aurukun" + "Aboriginal" + "rape” – none older than December 9th. That’s Moral Panic in capitals, on steroids!

Commentators black and white, male and female, from unknowns to the Prime Minister himself – pitched in on queue from various perspectives to condemn the ‘leniency’ of the Cairns-based judge, who ‘failed’ to impose a custodial sentence on the offenders.

The incident is shocking. This was more than a case of a very young girl having consensual sex with another minor. Several boys and young men were involved. Their actions amounted to repeated statutory rape of a very young minor. I don’t condone, or belittle, their deeds in the least. The girl involved – and her family – deserve respect and appropriate support..

That’s the first problem I have with all the ballyhoo that’s going on over this incident.

Where’s the genuine respect for the victim? Her interests – and that of her people – are being misconstrued as dependent on the severity of punishment meted out to the offenders. What nonsense! Her real needs must be a lot more subtle and complex – and less amenable to prompt solutions based on retribution.

Every moral panic needs a villain – someone whose allegedly abhorrent behaviour merits universal opprobrium.

In this case, District Court Judge Sarah Bradley has been set up to play the essential role. Her purportedly ‘liberal’ and ‘out-of-touch’ decision is now the butt of ill-informed comment throughout the nation – in pubs, canteens and shopping queues from Perth to Hobart.

Now, there are indeed occasions when criticism of a judge’s decision is appropriate. In general, I support open discussion about judicial decisions – the more informed we are about these matters, the better.

But this case revolts me – because all the discussion I’ve heard so far looks at one side of the issue, not the other.

Let’s imagine, for a moment, that Judge Bradley had sentenced all the boys and young men involved in this sad incident to harsh imprisonment. (Her failure to do so, after all, seems to be the nub of everyone’s complaint.)

What then? What are the likely consequences of incarcerating Aboriginal youths and men in institutions? Do Australia’s youth detention centres and jails have fine records for rehabilitation? Isn’t there more than a grain of truth in the claim they are training camps for criminality? Oh – and didn’t we have another moral panic, not so very long ago, about the shocking rate of Aboriginal deaths in custody?

It’s true the deterrent effect of custodial sentences should be taken into account. That’s what judges are required to do – as well as weighing up a plethora of other factors, some of which the public may never learn.

To carry out the sentencing tasks that our system call on judges and magistrates to perform, they must be free to weigh the considerations of each case without fear or favour.

We complain – rightly so – if judges ever show favour or bias.

How can we expect them to perform well if they live in permanent fear of media beat-ups?

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well said. Why has all this come out now, years later?

Wake up, sid! said...

Judges SHOULD live in fear. Not of "media beat-ups", but of democratic retribution. Lower court judges in the USA are routinely subject to the electoral process, where the miscreants can be removed. I am daily appalled by the lack of democracy in this pissant country, and the failure of so-called "thinking" people like Sid Walker to do anything but advocate bandaid type solutions.

Criminals of this magnitude deserve incarceration, not useless lefty attempts at "rehabilitation".

Paul - Edmonton said...

Sid, you are a brave man. When I first heard about this event, and the lack of sentencing, I was a bit shocked. But, after thinking about it, finding out more facts, and thinging again, there is more to this than most people see.
At first, I was shocked. A group of boys, and young men raping a 10 year old girl. What the hell is this world coming to when this can happen and there is not retribution.
Then, with what I have read and heard, this 10 year old girl willingly and concentually let them do it. If you want it, it really isnt rape is it. Most of these boys where underage themselves. Why hasnt the girl been charged with raping the underage boys??? ..
What has the parents of this girl been teaching her. I know when I was 10 years old, all my bits where used for where urinating, and playing with when mum wasnt looking.
You hear nearly every week about kids being fiddled with by young men and older men. Kids today know more than we did when we where their age. I don't condone any adult having sex, or fiddling with a minor. But, in all honesty, kids are wanting it a lot younger than we did when we where kids. If they cant get it from one of the kids at school, they will get it elsewhere. Then cry rape to get attention. Im not saying all pedophiles are innocent. anyone who does this is a sicko. But, I do think that these days, the kids arent as innocent as we would all like to think they are.

Paul - Edmonton said...

Sid, you are a brave man. When I first heard about this event, and the lack of sentencing, I was a bit shocked. But, after thinking about it, finding out more facts, and thinging again, there is more to this than most people see.
At first, I was shocked. A group of boys, and young men raping a 10 year old girl. What the hell is this world coming to when this can happen and there is not retribution.
Then, with what I have read and heard, this 10 year old girl willingly and concentually let them do it. If you want it, it really isnt rape is it. Most of these boys where underage themselves. Why hasnt the girl been charged with raping the underage boys??? ..
What has the parents of this girl been teaching her. I know when I was 10 years old, all my bits where used for where urinating, and playing with when mum wasnt looking.
You hear nearly every week about kids being fiddled with by young men and older men. Kids today know more than we did when we where their age. I don't condone any adult having sex, or fiddling with a minor. But, in all honesty, kids are wanting it a lot younger than we did when we where kids. If they cant get it from one of the kids at school, they will get it elsewhere. Then cry rape to get attention. Im not saying all pedophiles are innocent. anyone who does this is a sicko. But, I do think that these days, the kids arent as innocent as we would all like to think they are.

Tony Hillier said...

Methinks Sid makes some valid points. But, irrespective of the one dimensional elements of the media frenzy, the editor of the Cairns Post should hang his head in shame that the city's tabloid failed to break the story — especially when you consider the banal beat-ups and advertising puffs that find its way on to his front page.

Bryan Law said...

What a sad situation. My wife, Margaret Pestorius, who works as a social worker/counsellor in Aurukun and has known about the series of incidents for some time questions how it is that Sarah Bradley and the Judiciary were the first targets of News Ltd?

The first target needs to be the condition of community health and function in Aurukun. We need to remember that Aurukun has been the object of European social engineering and experimentation for 120 years, in two broad phases. For the last four decades it’s been subject to the political will and control of Queensland and Australian governments.

Alcohol was introduced 30 years ago as a funding method for an artificial and under-resourced shire government. The settlement created at Aurukun is a disaster of alienation, violence, desperation and poverty – in a remote and difficult location. Assault, abuse and family violence are present to a degree not commonly seen.

The second target has to be the succession of Queensland politicians and public servants who’ve been content to administer ongoing disaster from Cairns or Brisbane. Anna Bligh has been loud and proud recently promising an appeal in sentence for the Blackfellas, and saying that Departmental officers had already been disciplined for their part in the assault (negligently creating the circumstances under which it could and probably would happen).

She’s been far less successful in staffing family support programmes, foster care resources, or the development of indigenous leadership and capacity in solving these problems long term. One third of Families’ staff are temporary and untrained. Careers are buried in Blackfella business. There are no votes in Child safety, just scandals.

So we get a ten year old girl who’s been the repeated victim of sexual assault and displays heavily sexualised behaviour, and is living with a foster family in Cairns, who’s returned unsupervised to her home community for a funeral, and who suffers there from further misadventure.

The boys and men plead guilty. The Prosecution doesn’t ask for a prison sentence. The Judge creates a sentence structure heavy on rehabilitation. And for her part in the sad affair Judge Sarah Bradley becomes a target. What’s wrong with this picture?

And more importantly, what do we do about it?

I believe the proposals about indigenous leadership and society coming from Noel Pearson make a lot of sense.

News Ltd has been promoting racist hysteria for decades now.