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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Appeal courts quash child sex convictions and slash sentences

A CONVICTED child sex offender successfully appeals their conviction or sentence every five days in Australia, with the average sentence slashed by at least one-fifth.

A investigation can reveal that, of the 145 appeals involving child sex offences heard in 2008, 27 people had convictions quashed and 41 had their sentences reduced. Those figures do not include cases where more than two offenders were involved.

Counsellors have criticised the high success rate of the appeals, with one claiming the court system was "basically re-abusing children".

In Queensland alone, 10 child sex convictions were overturned by the judges of the Supreme Court of Appeal last year and jail-time was slashed by an average 34 per cent.

In Victoria, the Supreme Court of Appeal quashed seven convictions and reduced sentences by nearly 30 per cent.

Its New South Wales counterpart overturned five convictions and the average sentence was cut by 21 per cent. Four South Australians also walked off from their convictions on appeal.

In one appeal heard in Queensland, a woman sentenced to 3.5 years for raping her eight-year-old daughter had her conviction quashed because the evidence of the alleged victim, aged 10 at the time of the trial, was not "sufficient".

The girl had said she was in a "dreamlike state" when her mother allegedly entered her bedroom and digitally raped her; gave a slightly different time-frame of when the alleged offence occurred; and could not remember the exact position she was lying in the bed.

Psychologist Joe Tucci, who has counselled children who have seen their abusers walk free from court, said the impact of successful appeals on victims was devastating.

"They feel like they have done something wrong… that it's their fault and that they shouldn't have told anyone," Dr Tucci, CEO of the Australian Childhood Foundation, told "It really shakes their self-confidence and self-esteem."

"Often, the perpetrator will reapply for access to these kids… children end up having contact - and sometimes unsupervised contact - with these people."

While offenders had a high success rate in the appeals courts, prosecutors only managed to get a handful of sentences increased.

In another Queensland case, the prosecutors argued for tougher sentences for two parents who forced their 12-year-old daughter into prostitution in 2004.

The appeal failed in part and the girl's mother could be released from jail next March. The father could be eligible for parole nine months later.

Court documents detailed the lengths that the couple went to in order to find customers - including the creation of a website featuring explicit photos of their daughter which indicated that clients could have sex with her and her mother together.

"After initially trying to minimise his role, (the girl's father) admitted that he had taken digital photographs that found their way on to the website, as well as other photographs taken at other times and places and had played a part in their publication on the website," the documents said.

A diary showed there were 28 bookings for the girl from February 20 2004 to July 9 2004, and documents showed the mother was with the girl when one client arrived, and on the first occasion said to him: "You can do whatever you want."

CEO of the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN), Maree Faulkner, said the penalties for child sex offenders were already too soft before cases reached the higher courts.

"The impact of a child sexual abuse is life-long for the victims," Ms Faulkner said.

"It's a major factor in mental illness, alcohol abuse and drug abuse.

"These crimes have a life-long impact and they are not being treated as seriously as they should."

Dr Tucci said he had been told of instances where offenders appealed their convictions solely to exercise control over their victim’s emotions for their own pleasure.

"They get some kind of gratification out of the fact they can still manipulate them," Dr Tucci said. "It's another way to get at their victims."

He said people had the right to appeal a conviction or sentence, but many abused that process.

A child needed to know that the person who abused them was behind bars - and the longer it took for that to happen the more traumatising it became, he said.

"They’re left in limbo. To a child, this is not something they understand."

Australia's most notorious pedophile, Robert "Dolly" Dunn, had his sentence slashed by one-third, despite being convicted of 24 sex offences and three drugs charges.

In 2004, the NSW Court of Appeal slashed Dunn’s maximum jail term by 10 years. He was originally sentenced to 30 years imprisonment.

He will be eligible for parole in 2015, when he will be aged 74.

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