Archive | November, 2011

Nigella, the antechinus family, and the West’s bulimia

30 Nov

I used to love watching acclaimed kitchen goddess the luscious Nigella Lawson, when she first appeared on the small screen as the West’s primary exponent of food porn. By God she was sexy I thought, and her defiance of the fashion imperative for women to starve ourselves so we’d look like  end-stage junkies was refreshing.

But lately it seems to me that Nigella’s spontaneity has waned, to be replaced by  rather more artifice: she is now imitating her original self, as if that original has lost interest in the proceedings and withdrawn, bored, to observe. Another aspect of Nigella’s personality hams it up until she’s almost a parody of herself. This may well be intentional, and if so, she needs to ham it up a little more to reassure us. I suspect, though, that Nigella really has lost interest in the character she created, but how does one discard such a popular and revenue-generating persona?

To be fair, I’ve become increasingly disenchanted with the plethora of food shows on the telly, and  food porn in print media. It’s not just Nigella. The neurotic inconsistency  of slavering over food to the point of self-disgust, and in the next instant whipping ourselves into rigorous weight loss programs as penance, seems to go largely unremarked in popular culture. This is perhaps understandable as between them the two conflicting passions generate billions of dollars in the global economy.

In the big picture the West is in the grip of a mass epidemic of bulimia, an eating disorder  in which the sufferer first gorges then, full of guilt and self-hatred at the loss of control, violently purges her or himself.

I’ve never once watched a cooking program without a psychic default button changing my channel to scenes of famine, starving children, and those in the West who do not have access to food and televisions. This doesn’t always stop me joining in the orgy, though as Mrs Chook will attest, never without the comment that it’s disgusting that we engage in these orgiastic events when there’s so many people in the world living off next to nothing, and all too often, absolutely nothing.

The concept of having so much food that we can eat ourselves into overweight and obesity, then literally or metaphorically stick our fingers down our throats to throw it all back up again is, quite frankly, vile. As is the fashion culture that demands healthy women starve ourselves to emulate the frail bodies of our sick and literally starving sisters who have no choice in the matter.

Last Christmas somebody gave us a subscription to a foodie magazine. I never look at it, except to make some scathing comment on a cover when it first arrives. Then I kick it under the couch where the pile grows until someone vacuums. This happened just the other day, and the glossies were hauled out when the vacuum cleaner jammed as a consequence of trying to suck them up. Upon inspection it became apparent that something had been feasting. Tiny teeth had shredded extravagant illustrations, taking  bites out of cakes, desserts, casseroles and roasted things. Mrs Chook held the shredded remnants up as if to shame me, but I remained defiant.

It turns out there’s a family of antechinus nesting under the couch and behind the bookcase. This presents us with something of a dilemma, as nobody wants to slaughter the sweet little native animals. Leave them alone and let them eat cake, I advised. I’ve become very cavalier about wildlife in the house since I was bailed up by a snake on my way to the bathroom. Then yesterday there was the green frog who hopped in the back door and hopped out just as fast when I bent to give it a kiss to see what might happen next. Fairy tales have been something of a theme this week, what with the Slipper and all.

I don’t know what we’ll do about the antechinus. I don’t want to think about it.

But whether I watch Nigella again or not, I do pay tribute to her beauty, and her courageous stand against the tyranny of a fashion world that would have us look like pre pubescent waifs, all heron-legged, hollow-cheeked and shockingly fragile. Nigella’s curves are superb, and the image of her wrapping her generous mouth around a wicked midnight snack wearing only her silk dressing gown and backlit by the fridge, will stay with me for a long time, far longer than any of those starved and haunted models on the cover of Vogue.

Tasmanian ex MP will do no jail time for raping child – DPP’s decision vindicated

29 Nov

UPDATE: Terry Martin will not do jail time The DPP’s decision not to proceed with other prosecutions is vindicated by this result. The DPP predicted that anyone charged would either not be convicted, or if convicted would receive only minor sentence. 

Martin is  part of a class action against the makers of the drug claimed to have caused the hypersexualized behaviour Justice David Porter agreed led to Martin’s offenses. Justice Porter’s sentencing comments here

In On Line Opinion on October 11 2010, Professor Caroline Taylor, Head of the Social Justice Research Centre at Edith Cowan University, published an article titled “An (un) convincing argument” The article is a scathing commentary on the decision of the Tasmanian Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Tim Ellis, not to pursue any of the estimated 120 men who allegedly paid to have sex with a twelve-year-old girl. The men had responded to a newspaper advertisement claiming that the girl, “Angela,” was eighteen. “Angela” was put out to prostitution by her mother and her mother’s boyfriend, both of whom are now serving custodial sentences.

Mr Ellis took the unusual step of publishing a Memorandum setting out his reasons for not proceeding with the prosecution of eight of the men known to have had sexual relations with “Angela” here in the Hobart Mercury.

After communications with Tim Ellis the article was pulled from On Line Opinion, as Professor Taylor names ex Tasmanian MP Terence Martin, one of the men accused and at that time undergoing trial. Martin has just been convicted of unlawful sexual intercourse with a young person and producing child exploitation material, and is awaiting sentencing.

However, the same article remained on the website of activist Melinda Tankard Reist, in spite of being sub judice. At the time I wrote a piece in rebuttal of Professor Taylor’s position after an email exchange with both her and Tim Ellis. My piece was also withheld, as the matter was sub judice.

It is unfortunate that some important aspects of the DPP’s decision were left out of Professor Taylor’s article, such as the fact that “Angela” has refused to identify her abusers, and the fact that the accused men would be tried separately. This would subject “Angela” to participation in seven or eight trials, all with, according to the evidence revealed in the DPP’s Memorandum, little chance of a successful outcome. This information is highly relevant to the DPP’s decision not to proceed, and in all fairness, should have been noted in any public critique of his decision. Rather the assumption has been made by many who oppose that decision that it was made solely to protect the alleged abusers, though I have yet to find any motive for Ellis’s alleged desire to protect them.

It is difficult to accept that these men could have been unaware that “Angela” was underage. However, difficult as it is to accept, it is equally if not more difficult to prove that the men were ignorant of her age. They answered an advertisement for sex with an eighteen-year-old. They were, according to the DPP, shown into a darkened room, where many of them stayed for little more than the minutes it took for them to climax. There appears to be agreement between those who have seen “Angela” that she does look a good deal older than twelve. The prosecution would be required to prove beyond reasonable doubt that these men, having anticipated an 18-year-old woman, realised when they entered the room that “Angela” was much younger, and proceeded to have sexual relations with her regardless. While this may well have been the case, proving it is another story.

“Angela” was forced to service up to 200 men over a short time period. Her ability to identify them may well be impaired by their number, and the trauma of the horrific and unrelenting assault on her body and her mind and her spirit. It is hardly likely that “Angela” was in any fit state to closely observe and remember their faces, in circumstances that amount to torture.

In the DPP’s Memorandum it is stated that “Angela” has refused to identify her abusers, and refused to give evidence against them. This presents the DPP with a dilemma. To proceed with prosecution “Angela” must somehow be persuaded to engage in not one, but possibly eight court cases, against her will. This would embroil her in legal action for many more years of her young life, as each defendant must be tried separately. Angela has already endured the trial of her mother, and her mother’s partner. She has now decided that she does not wish to endure any more legal proceedings. As Ellis puts it : “Repeated trials would undoubtedly increase the trauma the complainant has already suffered. Given the unlikelihood of convictions and even if there are convictions, the likely [minor] sentences the accused men would face, in my view, it is not in the public interest to repeatedly subject the complainant to giving evidence and the resulting trauma that she would as a result suffer. ”

According to the DPP’s Memorandum, there is a very good chance that the eight accused would be acquitted. Martin obligingly photographed himself with Angela, but no such evidence is available in any of the other circumstances.

It is extremely unfortunate when outrage against the perpetrators blinds us to “Angela’s” ongoing suffering. Attempting to bring these men to justice would cost her dearly, and she doesn’t want to do it. The community’s desire for retribution, while understandable, must take into account what “Angela” would have to bear in order for the community’s demands for justice to be sated. It is very easy to call for “justice” when you are not the one who is faced with enduring the process required to attain it, or the terrible uncertainty that at the end of the ordeal, “justice” may well be the last thing you’ll achieve.

There are grown women who will not pursue their attackers in the courts. There are grown men who will not even admit they’ve been sexually abused, let alone name their abusers. Why then should anyone expect a thirteen-year-old girl to do this, not once, but over and over again?

In her article, Professor Taylor claims that: “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.”

Superficially, there is little to argue against in these observations. But on a deeper level, the fact is that as “Angela” has refused to participate in any prosecutions, to attempt to persuade her to do so is to deny her the fundamental human right to refuse action in which she does not wish to engage.  She has already been utterly stripped of her rights as a human being, by the perpetrators and by the men who abused her. She has already been denied the right to refuse in ways many of us cannot bear to even imagine. How can “society” even contemplate disregarding and disrespecting her right to say no to further legal action?

As well, there is no guarantee that putting her through a series of trials will result in justice for her. It appears more likely that the result would be quite the opposite, and “Angela” will continue to suffer through a series of negative outcomes. Her damaged sense of her humanity, her sense of vulnerability, and her suffering will all be exacerbated by trials that do not end in convictions. This is not a risk that anyone with empathy and knowledge of the traumatic aftermath of sexual abuse would persuade her to take.

Some of those who object to the DPP’s decision argue that this is an opportunity for societal change if only the right lawyer would up his or her hand to courageously take it on. No doubt there is truth in this, however, on what grounds can anyone justify turning “Angela” into society’s guinea pig?

Respecting “Angela’s” decision not to participate in the legal process is a more urgent moral imperative than society’s right to pursue the offenders. Society must not exploit this child’s misery in order to demonstrate some kind of moral evolution. “Angela” cannot be forced into satisfying society’s need to have these men punished. To do so would be to perpetuate her exploitation, and demand of her a sacrifice no one has the right to demand.

A real moral evolution will be evidenced when we are not blinded by our outrage against these men, but when we are able to see past that outrage and consider what it will do to the victim to insist that she be further victimized in our pursuit of justice.

Just because the legal means are available to address sexual crimes does not guarantee that they are always the best choice for the victim. Many rape victims know this. Many choose to relinquish their desire to see the accused punished because of what it will cost them. As frustrating and disappointing as this is for others, only the victim has the right to decide if she or he wants to, or can, go through the legal process. Victims of sexual crimes have already been forced to endure against their will. It is not society’s job to repeat this trauma, however well intentioned that society may perceive itself to be.

There is nothing more important to a victim of a sexual crime than to have her or his wishes respected and supported. It is one thing to stridently demand what we perceive as right and just, when it isn’t us who’ll have to pay the price.  It is another thing altogether to look into the face of a terribly abused and suffering child who tells you:  “I don’t want to,” and tell her she’s going to have to do it anyway because society demands justice and retribution.

This is a no-brainer. “Angela” is the only person who has the right to decide how she wants to proceed in this situation. This may well be the first time in her young life she’s been allowed to decide anything. “Angela” has decided. Society must accept that decision. Our obligation is to ensure she is receiving everything she needs to help her heal as best she can from unthinkable trauma. Nobody has the right to expect anything further of “Angela,” least of all that she offer herself up to change our world.


Abbott Reacts to Slipper Defection – Downfall Parody

28 Nov

Bruno Ganz plays Hitler plays Tony Abbott in this brilliant behind-the-scenes take on the Slipper affair (and I’m not talking about the Cinderella story, though the day of Slipper’s ascension, Melinda Tankard Reist did get on Twitter claiming to have lost her shoe on her way from Circular Quay to somewhere. Make of that what you will.) This is the most accomplished example of Godwin’s Law I’ve seen thus far.

Meanwhile I continue to marvel at the farcical shenanigans of both major parties that have resulted in the best outcome  for asylum seekers we’ve had since before Tampa, against their thunderously expressed policies. Whether they arrive by boat or plane, asylum seekers are now to be treated the same, and released into the community while their claims are assessed. For two major parties dedicated to off-shore processing, you’ve certainly cocked that up! If there are any gods, they’ll be laughing their heads off at the stupidity of mortal pollies, because you outwitted yourselves, people, and the decent thing happened in spite of you all.

As someone noted on Twitter, it’s just as well Mr Rabbit failed to sell his arse, because then he’d have nothing to talk out of, and nowhere to put his head. My God, you have to love Twitter.

Gerard’s Christmas wish

27 Nov

Guest post today by Gerard Oosterman, artist, farmer and blogger

Would Islam work better?  (The addicted gamblers demand it)

Well, if Catholicism was going to save us from the evils of gambling, or the moral spinelessness of our leaders, might it be prudent to look elsewhere for answers?  All our heavenly hope was vested in a leadership that would be benign, kind and benevolent.  So much hope got washed upon the shores of Christmas Island and despite promises that things would change for the better, it just doesn’t seem to have happened. Boat people are still languishing for years in detention. Suicides are almost  par for course with being a boat person. That’s what they do, don’t they? We provide them with three square meals, a bed and a flat screen television. If that’s not enough, that’s just tough. Go and jump.  Our hearts of stone will not be moved.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-11-19/dramatic-rise-in-detention-centre-incidents/3681630

If we think changing leaders at the next round of elections will change anything, think again. The flipping and flopping about by Abbott is just so mind boggling, one wonders if his stint with the Jesuits did more harm than good. It is amazing how anyone making claims to having enjoyed a Christian grounding and professing to have a belief in a good and benevolent God can in this same strand of theological forbearance and profound insight, and in the same breath, ‘predict’ the rescinding of sensible poker legislation.

We know that there are more bad things as well, alcohol, obesity, smoking, drugs and much more that have proven to be so damaging to hundreds, if not millions of people. But, we made inroads in smoking but are now not able to take on the pokies. Why not? Where is the God in Abbott?

Perhaps it is time to ask; where is the Allah in Australia? If society is crumbling even with our long held beliefs in Christianity, should we swap for something a bit more solid, a bit more reliable, and a bit gutsier?  Of course, no- one is heralding the entry of religion in our government and we all dearly want to remain secular, but how would we would feel having a Member of Parliament, a Minister, if not a Prime Minister, holding Islamic beliefs?  What would we feel about a female MP for the seat of Bennelong wearing a headscarf, or a white-robed defense minister, for example? Could we cope, seeing we are hardly capable of accepting a couple of thousand from those hotbeds of Islam, Afghanistan and Iraq?

Might it not be wise and prudent to add up and balance some of the positives of Islam and its culture? They are against gambling and would most certainly soon sort out our gambling addiction. They do enjoy breeding and racing horses, so it doesn’t seem that bad. They don’t want a drop of alcohol and can you blame them, just look at us. Smoking the water-pipe and chewing khat leaves are ok. So is a bit of hashish, smoked or inhaled.

It is not as simple as we might believe and there are big differences even within the same country or the same religion. Islam is as diverse as Christianity.

We, here in Australia have the Friday night spectre of the pub’s ‘meat tray raffle’, or ‘happy hour’ with reduced prices for schooners. What do you think people from Islamic countries might make out of those peculiar cultural oddities? The pushing of buttons on glittering and light flickering machines by ladies with blue or pink hair could also easily be seen as a strange voodoo like habit.  And so it goes on, so many differences but also many similarities. We all share love, sadness, joy, vanity, modesty, greed, brutality, friendliness, hatred, spite, generosity, togetherness, and loneliness.

We need to be far more tolerant and informed about the rest of the world, especially when borders disappear and so many people with all sorts of beliefs are roaming to find peace and happiness.

May Allah be with us also.

Gerard blogs at  Oosterman Treats Blog

And here, Watermelon Man David Horton has written a timely meditation on holes in the ground.

On violence against women

25 Nov

Nothing we have done so far has reduced violence against women.

Nothing.

Does this suggest that we are missing something?

Kyle Sandilands sucks dead dogs balls – and swallows

24 Nov

The most troubling thing about Kyle Sandilands isn’t necessarily the man himself, but that there is such a large audience for his particular type of vile and destructive energy. The man emanates seriously toxic slurry, and his many followers imbibe it like nectar.

The same can be said for the rest of the current crop of shock jocks: in themselves they are nothing more than severely emotionally crippled peddlers of very base opinions, crudely  and brutally expressed. On their own, they are  nobody, and would likely be propping up a bar somewhere, drunkenly spouting their venomous filth before spending the rest of the night vomiting their guts up against a wall. They exist because there’s enough like-minded followers to lift them out of their respective gutters and make them into “stars,” and this is the real cause for concern.

Two of Sandilands’ major sponsors, Holden and the Good Guys, have pulled their endorsement in response to Vile Kyle’s latest on-air spew. If we hadn’t just bought another brand, I’d argue for getting a Holden in support of that action. Companies that continue to sponsor this miserable freak such as Vodafone and Blackmores are promoting his twisted world view, and deserve to be boycotted for that.

Update: after reading this piece by Laurel Papworth I’m re-thinking my comments on sponsors. Papworth’s analysis is well worth a reading.

Also this piece by Sheeple Liberator is thought provoking on the question of withdrawal of corporate sponsorship

Sandilands, like Bolt before him, is pleading the right to free speech as a justification for his verbal assaults.  “Watch your mouth or I’ll hunt you down,” he tells journalist Alison Stephenson, who had the absolute nerve to criticise him . I’d be off to the coppers with that threat if I was her.

Sandilands’ inability to cope with criticism, and his desire to “hunt down” anyone who dares to send any his way, are symptoms of profound narcissism. Nobody is allowed to tell Kyle he’s anything but perfect, because Kyle will have a meltdown and threaten them with injury or death. He’s stuck in the infantile phase  in which the child regards himself as omnipotent and any rebuke is a fundamental threat to that omnipotence, provoking a tantrum in which the child wants to destroy the whole nasty world for turning against him. People who don’t evolve from this stage often turn into psychopaths.

How anyone can work in such a poisoned orbit as that created by Kyle is a mystery. I note Jackie O‘s reaction to claims that Sandilands is misogynist goes along the lines of, no, that’s not his agenda, he’s awful to everyone not just women. Well, that’s reassuring. I guess if you’re this close to someone you’re going to make excuses for him – bit like domestic violence denial, really.

Update: it looks like Vodafone and Blackmores have pulled out as well – see this link in the SMH.

When being right can be so wrong: the Professor and the Tasmanian DPP

22 Nov

In The Age today, this report on ex Tasmanian MP Terence Lewis Martin, who has been found guilty of having sex with a 12 year-old-girl who’d been sold into prostitution by her mother and her mother’s partner, Gary Devine.

In October 2010 when the case was sub judice the following piece appeared on Melinda Tankard Reist’s website. It was subsequently published in On Line Opinion, until editor Graham Young took it down after being contacted by Tasmanian DPP Tim Ellis, who pointed out that naming Martin in the piece was against the law and could result in charges of contempt against OLO. However, the piece remained on MTR’s website.

I wrote a piece for OLO contesting the  validity of Professor Taylor’s demands that all the other men who’d engaged in sexual relations with the child should be prosecuted. However, after communications with both Young and Tim Ellis, it became clear that my piece couldn’t be published either.

Now the case has been settled and Martin found guilty, both pieces can be published.

First, from MTR’s Website:

Today, an important guest post by Professor S. Caroline Taylor, Foundation Chair in Social Justice and Head of the Social Justice Research Centre at Edith Cowan University. Professor Taylor 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.

Last week, the Tasmanian Director of Public Prosecution, Mr Tim Ellis, released an eight page Memorandum of Advice to the Tasmania police which instructed that at least 120 men who had paid to have sex with a 12-year-old ward of the state will not be charged with breaking the law.

On October 1, on Stateline Tasmania, Mr Ellis dismissed broad community and expert concern about the case as nothing more than a symptom of “wicked” media sensationalism. He added the gratuitous comment that the law rests with a “reasonable jury, not a lynch mob”.

In effect Mr Ellis framed the numerous and profound media and expert critiques of the social justice issues that this case clearly raises as nothing more than an hysterical media driven moral panic about child sexual abuse.

It’s a puerile argument, as stupid as it is offensive to public sensibilities. This tactic reduces the complex reasons behind the critique of his decision with an underhanded accusation that such critiques are not “reasonable”. This is echoed in the Attorney-General Lara Giddings comment: “I understand their anger”. Reducing the profound ethical critiques of this case to a single reactionary emotion – anger – infantilises public concern in order to dismiss such concerns.

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.

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.

Even with the gaps about the prosecution having to prove the men knew the girl was underage, as a society we deserve a courageous lawyer, a brave leader to say, regardless of these limitations and challenges, we will take the case forward and prosecute with all our might.

Legal, societal and moral reform has always been preceded by challenges for change and development. The failure to bring the charges to light and to call the men to account for the crime they were charged with, and have it determined in a legal forum demonstrates a deeply imbedded flaw in the moral character of Tasmanian law.

The DPP’s remarkable counter claim that the area of law that should be reformed lies in the regulation of prostitution misses the entire basis of the argument raised by myself and others. It is a crime to work as a prostitute if one is under the legal age of consent. So even if prostitution were more tightly regulated it would never be legal for a 12-year-old to be prostituted to men.

Also, the “pimps” in this case were not seeking to set up a shingle and an office. Tighter regulation of prostitution would not have led to detection of the crime. It’s a stupid focus and takes us nowhere other than to shift focus from the facts of the case – the sexual abuse, exploitation and prostituting of a child and the abject failure of the law to seek any semblance of justice for the child or society for that matter.

It’s easy to attack and criticise my comments on the Stateline show (September 30) as DPP Ellis did. For my part, I do not retract my comments. The fact I was not privy to the “evidence” as he suggests, does not in my view negate my comments. Indeed, it is odd for Mr Ellis to suggest that if we (myself, presumably, and the public) had seen the evidence we would agree with him – the collective ‘we’ were all denied the opportunity to understand the logic behind Mr Ellis’ singular opinion because the evidence was never tested in a legal forum and his reasoning not open to scrutiny. My critique was not about the vocabulary of excuses – it was about the failure to test these excuses within a legal forum designed to hear and determine criminal charges.

I am concerned about the capacity of one man’s support for the chorus of claims by a large group of accused men that by right should have been delivered in a legal forum viva voce and adjudicated on by the court. I am concerned that the veracity of their claims about being unable to tell the difference between a primary school age child and a female over 18 has not been tested in a court of law.

This is about simply demanding that the line up of men who subjected a little girl to relentless penetrations and sexual violations have claims that they are unable to distinguish between a primary school age child and someone older, in a legal forum.

By not taking the matter to court, we abrogated a little girl’s most basic human right to at least have the law step in on some level to protect her and thousands like her. As a society we should not stand by silently and allow our public office of prosecution to indulge in secretive and un-democratic decision-making. To do so denies us our capacity as a democracy, and as a people, to reform both justice and our moral compass about the most vulnerable members of our society.

My unpublished response to Professor Taylor’s piece:

When being right can be so wrong

In Online Opinion on October 11, Professor Caroline Taylor, Head of the Social Justice Research Centre at Edith Cowan University, published an article titled “An (un) convincing argument.”

The article is a scathing commentary on the decision of the Tasmanian Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Tim Ellis, not to pursue any of the estimated 120 men who allegedly paid to have sex with a twelve-year-old girl. The men had responded to a newspaper advertisement claiming that the girl, “Angela”, was eighteen. “Angela” was put out to prostitution by her mother and her mother’s boyfriend, both of whom are now serving custodial sentences.

Below is the link to extracts from the DPP’s Memorandum in which Mr Ellis takes the unusual step of providing a public explanation of why the decision not to proceed with prosecutions against some other men was taken:

http://www.themercury.com.au/article/2010/10/02/176611_opinion.html

It is unfortunate that some important aspects of the DPP’s decision were left out of Professor Taylor’s article, such as the fact that the child has refused to identify her abusers, and the fact that the accused men would be tried separately. This would subject the child to participation in seven or eight trials, all with, according to the evidence revealed in the above link, little chance of a successful outcome. This information is highly relevant to the DPP’s decision not to proceed, and in all fairness, should have been noted in any public critique of his decision.

It is regrettable that the article is based largely on an assumption that the Tasmanian DPP sought to protect the alleged abusers with his decision, and the outrage that naturally accompanies such an assumption.

It is difficult to accept that these men could have been unaware that the child was underage. However, difficult as it is to accept, it is equally if not more difficult to prove in a court of law that the men were ignorant of her age. They answered an advertisement for sex with an eighteen-year-old, they had not sought sex with a child. They were, according to the DPP, shown into a darkened room, where many of them stayed for little more than the minutes it took for them to climax. There appears to be agreement between those who have seen the child that she does look a good deal older than twelve. The girl was forced to service up to 200 men over a short time period. Her ability to identify them may well be impaired by their number, and the trauma of the horrific and unrelenting assault on her body and her mind. All of this speaks to reasonable doubt.

Of course there is widespread distress and concern about this child. Of course there is widespread disbelief that the men involved couldn’t have known her age, or at least that she was under-age. Of course the community would like nothing more than to hold these men accountable for their sexual abuse of this child. Of course we are outraged that they will escape accountability.

However. In the DPP’s Memorandum it is stated that the child has refused to identify her abusers, and to give evidence against them. This presents the DPP with a dilemma. To proceed the child would have to somehow be forced to engage in a series of prosecutions, all against her will. There would be not one but at least seven or eight separate cases, as those offenders who have made statements to the police would have to be tried independently of one another.

There is a very good chance, an enormous chance in fact, that the accused would in every case be acquitted. No one can force the child to identify anybody, even if she is somehow forced into court. And no one in their right mind would expect her to be capable of remembering particular faces, from circumstances that amount to torture.

And what would it do to this child, to be forced,cajoled, manipulated against her expressed will, to participate in not one but several prosecutions stretching over years and years of her life?

It is extremely unfortunate when outrage against the perpetrators blinds us to the ongoing suffering of the child. Bringing these men to justice would cost the child dearly, and she doesn’t want to do it. The desire for retribution expressed in Professor Taylor’s article, while understandable, does not take into consideration what this child would have to bear in order for the professor’s demands for “justice” to be sated.

There are grown women who will not pursue their attackers in the courts. There are grown men who will not even admit they’ve been sexually abused, let alone name their abusers. Why then should anyone expect a child to do this, not once, but over and over and over again?

Yes, our legal system gives us the means to pursue these offenders. Yes, they deserve the full weight of the law’s approbation. Yes, Terry Martin, ex Tasmanian MP is being pursued for engaging in oral sex with this child. And what is the difference? The difference is Terry Martin filmed himself doing it. The child isn’t needed to identify him. But the child’s identification of the others is essential if the DPP is to get up a case.

In her article, Professor Taylor claims that: “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.”

Superficially, there is little to argue against in these observations. But on a deeper level, the fact is that the child has refused to participate in any prosecutions, therefore to attempt to force her to do so is to deny her the human right to refuse. She has already been stripped of her human rights, by the perpetrators who sold her and by the men who abused her.

There is no guarantee that putting her through a series of trials will result in justice for her. It is more likely that the result would be quite the opposite, and she will have suffered further for a series of negative outcomes. Her damaged sense of her humanity, her sense of vulnerability, and her suffering would all be exacerbated by trials that do not end in convictions. This is not a risk that anyone with any empathy and knowledge of the traumatic aftermath of child sexual abuse would advise her to take.

Professor Taylor remarks that this could be an opportunity for societal challenge and change, if the right lawyer would up his or her hand to courageously take it on. No doubt there is truth in this, however, on what grounds can Taylor justify turning this young victim into society’s guinea pig?

Respecting the child’s decision not to participate in the legal process is a more urgent moral imperative than society’s right to pursue the offenders. Society must not exploit this child’s misery in order to demonstrate some kind of moral evolution. This child cannot be forced into satisfying society’s need to have these men punished.

A real moral evolution will be evidenced when we are not blinded by our outrage against these men, but when we are able to see past that outrage and consider what it will do to the victim to insist that she be further victimized in our pursuit of justice.

Having read the Memorandum, I am convinced that given the realities of the case, it is extremely unlikely that the girl would agree to identify the abusers. It is very unlikely that anyone could prove that these men realized she was underage when they arrived for their appointments, and went on regardless to intentionally engage in a sexual act with a minor. And this is the heart of it. These things must be proved, beyond reasonable doubt. Every defendant is entitled to that consideration, no matter how much we might despise their alleged actions.

It is the job of the DPP to assess the merits of a case, and whether or not it has legs. Perhaps his judgments are “subjective,” as Professor Taylor alleges, nevertheless it is his job to make these assessments, and in this case, I find it hard to see how he could have reasonably arrived at any other conclusion. Far from denying the child her human rights, Mr. Ellis has acted with compassion and common sense. It may be that there was political self-interest involved in his decision as well, nevertheless his judgment seems, sadly, the only one possible given the circumstances.

Just because the legal means are available to address sexual crimes does not guarantee that they are always the best choice for the victim. Many rape victims know this. Many choose to relinquish their desire to see the accused punished because of what it will cost them. As frustrating and disappointing as this is for others, only the victim has the right to decide if she or he wants to, or can, go through the legal process. Victims of sexual crimes have already been forced to endure against their will. It is not society’s job to repeat this trauma, however well-intentioned that society may perceive itself to be.

Every decent impulse in us urges that offenders such as these must be punished. But at some point we must stop and assess what it will cost the child if we demand the moral satisfaction of achieving that goal. “Angela” has been forced too much, too far and too often.  We cannot, in all conscience, force her to do anything more. This works to the offenders’ advantage, and that’s a bitter pill to swallow. Sometimes, perhaps far too often, the offender gets away with it.

But there is nothing more important to a victim of a sexual crime than to have her or his wishes respected and supported. It is one thing to stridently demand what we perceive as right and just, when it isn’t us who’ll have to pay the price.  It is another thing altogether to look into the face of a terribly abused and suffering child who tells you:  “I don’t want to,” and decide she’s going to have to do it anyway because society demands justice and retribution.

Today I heard a sound bite from an interview with Professor Taylor, post Terry Martin’s conviction. Taylor is still accusing the Tasmanian DPP of failing to offer the child justice. She is still insisting that as a society we must bring these men to justice. And I would still ask her, as I did in several emails, what about the right of the child to refuse a future such as Taylor and Melinda Tankard Reist would have her endure?

The decision to say no to any further court proceedings (the child has already endured the prosecution of her mother and stepfather)  is likely the first decision the child has ever been allowed to make, and it must be respected. In my view, society, Caroline Taylor, and Melinda Tankard Reist can just suck that up, and have the decency to leave the child in peace to recover from horrors most of us don’t even want to imagine.

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