Editor’s note: This article is the first in a three-part series on the ramifications of a case decided recently in Melbourne’s County Court. The second article will describe the culture that allows this to take place, while the final installment will focus on the victim.—Eds.
A 23-year-old single mother enticed a 13-year-old boy to have sexual intercourse with her. This was not a one-off occurrence. The sex was regular, as was the booze, drugs, and cigarettes that came with the woman’s lifestyle. The abuse began when the two were neighbours. When she moved to another house, he, at the tender age of 14, went to live with her. She was pregnant with his child.
The Victorian Police and the Department of Human Services, we are told, were powerless to do anything about it, even though they knew. The shocking fact is that the authorities were outsmarted by a woman with an IQ of 64.
By the time he was 18 years old, he was a father of three. That same year he found out what it is like to pay child support but not be allowed to see his own children. Finally, in 2011, he filed a complaint to the authorities. It took them three years to bring the matter to trial. That trial ended with the woman avoiding any jail time.
This story highlights a number of concerns for the rights and well-being of men and boys in Australia, and we will tackle them in a few articles. This first article looks at the farcical judgment of Judge Chris O’Neill, which shows that men and boys cannot expect justice from the Australian courts.
The Herald Sun tells us:
County Court Judge Chris O’Neill said that the hardship that would be suffered by the now-married woman’s children if she was imprisoned, as well as her reduced moral culpability due to cognitive deficits, meant her jail term would be wholly suspended.
Prison almost always affects more than the person being put in jail. In most cases in which a young family is involved, a father going to jail causes hardship for the whole family. There is no question that the children’s relationship with their father, and therefore their relationships with men in general, would be harmed by the resulting lack of contact. Not only is there an immediate reduction in the family income, but the father’s career prospects are damaged. Add to this the stigma of criminality. This obviously affects the family as a whole.
In the case of males going to prison, however, O’Neill would be among the first to remind us that this is the unfortunate but necessary part of the deterrent aspect of prison. Not only is the man punished, but also he is seen to be punished without favour because of the crime. It is not the court’s fault, nor the victim’s fault, that the criminal has dependants. Perhaps his children, a judge might say, might learn that crime does not pay.
For this woman, however, the question of children is not incidental. According to the Herald Sun, the woman insisted that the youth did not wear a condom. Three of her children are therefore a direct result of her crimes.
In other words, for all of those other women who are interested in taking advantage of young boys, the message is clear: The best way to avoid jail is to have your victim’s children.
The “reduced culpability” is also somewhat concerning.
Forensic psychologist Pamela Matthews told the court the woman had an IQ of 64 and the intellectual functioning of a teenager.
According to the Herald Sun, Matthews went on to say that this is why “she gravitated towards those of similar functioning.”
The woman had good prospects for rehabilitation and was not sexually attracted to children, the judge said.
Rehabilitation? What rehabilitation? She went home free. And as for “not sexually attracted”? She “gravitates” to people of her own mental age. Most people with her mental age have the actual age of children. And she has shown by her own behaviour that she will, repeatedly, have sex with a boy who has just gone through puberty. That’s “children” by any definition, including the legal one O’Neill is supposed to use.
Judge O’Neill also said her cognitive deficits meant she had a reduced understanding of the risks involved with the illicit affair and less able to make the appropriate decisions.
How bad are these “cognitive deficits”? When challenged about having a sexual relationship with a minor, she continually denied it, obviously understanding that it was wrong. According to The Age:
She was arrested in 2012, the court heard, but told police the boy had claimed he was 17 when they first had sex.
So those cognitive deficits didn’t stop her from understanding that 17 was legal but younger was illegal. They also didn’t stop her from obtaining an intervention order against the now young man when she no longer wanted him to see the children.
She also accused him of raping her, the court heard.
So, this woman knew that what she was doing was wrong and told vicious lies to avoid the consequences. Judge O’Neill’s view of diminished responsibility is lacking in substance. For this reason, we must question his conclusion that there is little chance of her reoffending. The psychologist’s evaluation of the woman was recent. She currently has an IQ of 64. That will not improve. Her “cognitive deficits” will not magically get better.
No, the person who committed those crimes, complete with the reduced capacity to understand them, went home unaltered and unrepentant. The prosecutor called her crimes “opportunistic.” If similar circumstances arise in the future, it can only be expected that she will seize the opportunity again.
It is also interesting to note the crimes she was not accused of. Consider this snippet from a recent case in the UK reported by The Guardian that involves a former radio personality, Chris Denning, being accused of sexual assaults on young men:
The Crown Prosecution Service announced on Thursday that Denning was accused of 41 crimes, including 34 counts of indecent assault, on 22 alleged victims between 1967 and 1985.
Compare this with the case that was before O’Neill in the County Court:
The woman, now 32, pleaded guilty to maintaining a sexual relationship with a child under the age of 16.
No repeated “counts” of anything. And yet their sexual history is of the frequent nature expected of an adult couple. To reduce this repeated abuse of the boy to one charge is not consistent with the recent history of how sexual predators have been dealt with in the courts. It is also not consistent with justice, given the enormous, lifelong consequences for the victim.
Judge O’Neill said the woman gave the boy alcohol, drugs and freedom, but that was not evidence of grooming or predatory behaviour.
Giving the boy alcohol was illegal. Giving the boy drugs was illegal. How many charges did she face for these crimes?
And if the sex, booze, and drugs were not predatory behaviour, what were they?
“Rather, you were simply attempting to endear yourself to (the boy) as you felt genuine affection towards someone with whom you could relate,” Judge O’Neill said.
Quite how the judge sees that as not “grooming” is beyond belief. It seriously brings the judge’s own “cognitive deficits” into question. But further, the boy didn’t just have sex with her.
He moved in with the pregnant woman, who was in her 30s, when he was 14.
[Editor’s note: According to our calculations, the woman’s age at the time the boy moved in would have been around 23 or 24. The boy was definitely 14 when he moved in with her. The quote is taken directly from the Herald Sun article dated May 21, 2014.]
The ineffectiveness of the police and the Department of Human Services to rescue the boy is the subject of another article, but it is worth noting here that the woman was active in deceiving the authorities on this matter that was vital to the boy’s welfare. Were there any charges relating to this deceit and effective abduction?
She made a false accusation of rape. That, too, is illegal. Any charges from this?
So, in the end, O’Neill lets the woman off with a warning, due to what he seemed to call “exceptional” circumstances. The Age describes it as follows:
“Normally offending of this seriousness would warrant a significant jail sentence,” Judge O’Neill said on Friday.
“(But) there is a discretion to the court to grant special mercy where the circumstances of family hardship are exceptional.”
Judge O’Neill said the woman’s husband worked full time to support the children.
“I accept that almost every waking moment is spent looking after the children in one way or another,” he said.
What is exceptional about any of this for any young family? Is the husband working full time exceptional? Is the constant need for supervising little ones “in one way or another” exceptional?
Without doubt, these “exceptional” circumstances would not keep a man out of jail. Without question, the judge’s “exceptional” double standards have allowed a predator to escape the consequences of her actions.
She selfishly allowed her own sexual gratification to take priority over a young boy’s mental and emotional development. She used the boy as an amusement and threw him out with the rubbish when she was done. Now that O’Neill and the rest of the Australian authorities have failed to deliver him justice of any kind, how does that young man rebuild his life?