New Australian PM says apology will help build bridge between communities.
The prosecutor in the case has also faced condemnation for not seeking jail for the rapists and describing the rape as “consensual sex” and “a form of childish experimentation”.
In her sentencing remarks, Bradley told the nine males that it was illegal to have sex with anyone younger than 16, but that the victim – who contracted a sexually transmitted disease – “was not forced and she probably agreed to have sex with all of you”.
Passing sentence she placed six of the offenders, who were juveniles at the time of the rape, on one-year probation and recorded no convictions against them.
She handed down suspended six-month prison sentences for the three other offenders who were aged 17, 18 and 26.
|Judge Sarah Bradley said the sentences were
“appropriate” [Photo: The Australian]
Steve Carter, the prosecutor in the case, had said in court that the boys and men had not forced themselves on the girl or threatened her, and that they had arranged together to have sex.
“Although she was very young, she knew what was going on and she had agreed to meet the children at this particular place and it was all by arrangement,” court transcripts quote him as saying.
“Sometimes things happen in a small community when children get together,” he also said.
The rape happened in the remote Aboriginal community of Aurukun in Australia’s far north.
Kevin Rudd, Australia‘s prime minister, said he was “horrified” by the case, saying he took a “zero tolerance” attitude toward sexual violence against women.
“I’m disgusted and appalled by the reports that I’ve seen,” Rudd told reporters in Queensland.
“There is nothing culturally, nothing morally, nothing socially and certainly nothing legally that would ever allow this decision to be made”
Professor Bonni Robertson, Aboriginal activist
Aboriginal leaders meanwhile have also criticised the verdict as far too lenient.
“There is nothing culturally, nothing morally, nothing socially and certainly nothing legally that would ever allow this decision to be made,” said Professor Bonni Robertson, an Aboriginal activist.
Hetty Johnson, a child protection advocate, said “if this was a white girl in white suburban Brisbane there’s no way these nine offenders would’ve just walked out of a courtroom”.
Senior Queensland state officials said they were not aware of the case until it was reported in the media on Monday.
However The Australian newspaper said the state’s child safety department knew of the gang rape and did not report it to police.
“In this case the child protection system and the courts failed the little girl in question,” Jenny Macklin, the federal indigenous affairs minister, said.
Anna Bligh, the premier of Queensland, has announced a review of all sexual assault cases in the last two years, in Aboriginal communities on Cape York, the remote region where the assault occurred.
“The nature of the sentences in this case are so far from community expectations I have to say I am alarmed, and I am not prepared to just write this off as an unusual one-off case,” she said.
But Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Sydney, Dan Nolan, says fears of being deemed racist may have been what put the victim in harm’s way.
The girl was apparently also gang raped when she was seven-years-old and was taken into protection with a non-indigenous family in a foster home.
A senior government official told The Australian newspaper the girl was sent back to Arukun because of sensitivities over the removal of Aboriginal children in what is now referred to as the “stolen generation”.
Our correspondent says the case highlights the desperate plight of many of Australia‘s Aboriginal communities.
It comes less than six months after the previous federal government, under John Howard, announced a radical intervention to combat what an official report found was rampant child sex abuse in Aboriginal societies in the Northern Territory.