The Mercury printed this story in their newspaper on Thursday 31st October. It did not appear online.
Apart from the abhorrent crime itself, there’s two very clear and disturbing aspects to this article. Obviously, the headline is sensationalist and inaccurate. A 35 year old man cannot have “teen sex” with a 13 year old girl. 13 year olds cannot give consent so by definition it’s not sex, it’s rape. Sex and rape mean very different things and cannot be used interchangeably.
The fact that he is a father is not relevant to the crime and describing him as a “dad”, a warm and sympathetic term, is a deeply misleading and irrelevant term for a man who raped a child.
Then there’s the judge’s characterisation of what happened between an adult man and a child as “consensual sex”. The sentencing remarks, which are published on the Tasmanian Supreme Court website corroborate the reporting of his comments. Below is a screenshot of some of what he said.
The entire remarks combined with the details of the crime could make it possible to identify the child involved so I have chosen to black out the name of the offender and post a screenshot from the court website rather than the link.
Based on the details included in the sentencing remarks, and without knowing the full details of the crime and the evidence presented to the court, it’s still astounding that a Supreme Court judge can have so little understanding of how child abuse occurs that he can describe sexual abuse of a 13 year old in state care as a consensual sexual relationship.
Perhaps he was attempting to say there was no evidence of physical force in the rape but even a lay person reading expert evidence such as the paper produced for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse would understand that grooming is almost always uses emotional and psychological, not physical force. This does not make the act any less criminal or the effects any less damaging. It’s reasonable to expect a senior member of the judiciary should have at least this much of a grasp on the crimes that come before his court.
Court reporters have an obligation to report what happens in court without giving opinion or bias. This article was clearly only given very small space and did a reasonably good job of summing up what happened in the sentencing hearing.
However, journalists are also supposed to hold public institutions to account. While opinion, analysis or commentary have no place in court reporting, I do have to wonder why no one at the Mercury thought to question the judge or the court about Justice Brett’s interpretation of the crime and the context in which it occurred. There’s a strong public interest argument for giving this information to the people of Tasmania and allowing public debate on how their judges and courts understand crimes against their children.
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