Over the past week, cases involving the abuse or exploitation of adolescent female sexuality have glaringly exposed how deeply entrenched victim blaming attitudes are in Australia.
First, there was the police response to the exposure of an online site posting thousands of explicit images of underage girls without their knowledge or consent. Queensland Police concluded that the site did not 'appear to contain any child exploitation material', and one young woman told Triple J's Hack program that she had received exceptionally short shrift from police when she made a complaint about her image being on the site: 'The guy I spoke to, an older guy, just laughed pretty much. He said that's what I get for taking them'.
The police response was echoed by Kambrya College after news.com.au reported that images of some of its female students appeared on the pornographic site. In a righteously indignant Facebook post that went viral, Catherine Manning, the parent of a Kambrya student, described how all years 7–10 girls were ordered at a specially convened assembly 'to check the length of their skirts' because 'the boys are distracted by their legs, and that boys don't respect girls who wear short skirts'.
She demanded, 'Stop letting boys off the hook for their appalling behaviour. Address the culture that encourages sexist and misogynist attitudes, but don't demonise our girls.'
Principal Michael Muscat's acknowledgement that the 'separate issues' of school uniform and the pornographic site should not have been linked at the same assembly hopefully indicates the school will immediately institute a policy of not using blaming language.
The week concluded with yet another demonstration of the pervasiveness of victim blaming, this time in the Victorian County Court.
As reported by The Age, when sentencing Franco Abad, a 32-year-old man convicted of knowingly having sex with a 14-year-old girl he met outside the Children's Court while employed there as a security guard, Judge Christopher Ryan said, 'the girl had appeared "worldly" and "older than her years" when she told the court about their sexual relationship in a "matter-of-fact" way via video link'.
The girl's 'worldliness' was possibly the result of a troubled childhood: at the time of Abad's offences she was in state care. Her attendance at the Children's Court should surely have indicated her potential vulnerability.
"In one 1955 Victorian case, an 11-year-old girl was branded a 'temptress' by Judge Cussen for having sex with two adult men. He demanded, 'Can't anybody do anything for the girl? She seems to be some kind of pervert."
Judge Ryan's lenient sentencing of Abad to a two-year good behaviour bond, and his remarks about Abad's powerlessness in the face of the girl's sexual precocity (he was unable to resist the girl's advances because he was not 'a man of steel'), are depressingly reminiscent of those made by judges more than 50 years ago.
Then (as it is now), it was illegal for adults to have sex with children under the age of 16. Men convicted of having such relations with underage girls could be imprisoned up to 20 years. While it was no defence to argue that the girl had consented to having sex, if it could be proven that she had had consensual intercourse with other men previously, the offender could be acquitted. Consequently, in carnal knowledge trials, girls were frequently accused of having rich histories of sexual activity.
Sally-Anne Huckstepp, who would later become a famous Sydney sex worker and whistle-blower against NSW police corruption, made her first appearance in court in the mid-1960s to give evidence against an older teenage boy accused of carnally knowing her. The following exchange between Huckstepp and the defendant's lawyer, included in her biography by John Dale, is representative of the treatment meted out to female witnesses:
'Do you swear you were a virgin when Paul Hedley first had intercourse with you?'
'You know a boy called Mick Kiggins?'
'And you had intercourse with him?'
'No, I did not.'
'Any boy can undress you, can't he?'
'Provided he has drugs in his possession?'
'Your pants are showing'.
'They are not!'
Cross-examinations of young female witnesses were also exercises in victim blaming. Take, for example, this defense lawyer's line of questioning of a 15-year-old girl in 1954:
Mr. Croxton: When you went to his room one night three weeks ago you got into bed with Roger and took off your pyjama pants?
Dorothy: He took them off
Mr. Croxton: I put it to you that you did.
Dorothy: Yes, I did.
Mr. Croxton: And you did not mind Roger having intercourse with you until you found it unpleasant and became frightened?
Dorothy: Yes. I wanted relations with him until I became frightened.
Croxford concluded: 'The legislature should provide protection for young men from girls such as this girl.'
Hostility towards girls in carnal knowledge cases did not come just from defence lawyers. Magistrates made appalling summations of victims' culpability. In one 1955 Victorian case, an 11-year-old girl was branded a 'temptress' by Judge Cussen for having sex with two adult men. He demanded, 'Can't anybody do anything for the girl? Can't she be put in a home? She seems to be some kind of pervert. She is a menace to men.' Summing up, Cussen placed the guilt squarely on the girl's shoulders while dismissing the charges against both men. 'She is more like a mature woman than a child of her age. I don't think she has suffered any harm from your attentions.'
While the language employed by Judge Cussen in 1955 and Judge Ryan in 2016 is different and, indeed, Abad was sentenced for his crime, the resilience of notions — not only in the broader community but the criminal justice system — that children are somehow responsible for their own exploitation and abuse while perpetrators are deserving sympathy, is deeply troubling.
It is heartening to see, then, the enraged rejection by many Australian girls of the widespread idea that they are to blame when images of them are published online without their consent, and that they must conform to beliefs about appropriate femininity to avoid victimisation. As year 9 Kambrya College student Faith Sobotker stated in a self-made video after that assembly, 'I do not want these girls to be growing up in a society where they believe they have to be a certain way ... they can be whoever they want to be.' Indeed. They also have the right to be protected and supported by the police, their schools and their communities when harmed.
Madeleine Hamilton has a PhD in Australian history and is currently undertaking a Masters in social work.
Main image by Wolfram Burner via Flickr
Comments should be short, respectful and on topic. Email is requested for identification purposes only.
Roy Chen Yee
24 August 2016
Humans are capable of institutionalising irrationalities until they seem normal. An impending irrationality soon to appear normal is same-sex 'marriage'. A current irrationality is the skirt which, especially at knee length or above, appears to have no purpose but to draw attention to the leg (which is fine if one has a male eye). As such, skirts have about as much place in a school as a condom. If anything, Miss Sobotker should be disdaining the idea of skirts for that of the trouser, very much more practical in all circumstances, formal and informal. If one had to scamble over a wall to escape a fire or some other exigency without appearing too ridiculous, the trouser would win. And as for the Queenslander who placed a self-nudie on a public telecommunications system, well, no matter how you slice it, brainless is brainless. Certainly, everybody would have said so if she did the same with her Internet banking code and password. But Internet banking codes and passwords aren't as ideological as the sexual autonomy of the female in a climate where the idea of modesty, deriving from religious and cultural sources, is a pawn in the battle between theism and a-theism.
26 August 2016
When will we talk about men who lack responsibility and respect, let alone not following Jesus examples? Roy once again places all the responsibility on women. Skirt lengths, really Roy? Women under 16 are children and that is the law. I am sick of weak, spoilt young men who abuse women, break all the rules and face little or no consequences. I have many young men in my wider family and they are lovely, strong respectful men. Fathers, Mothers, teachers and the Church, step up and discipline your boys or safety and our Christian way of life will be lost. How many women have died at the hands of men again this year? Far too many.
26 August 2016
What kind of training do judges and magistrates get - and the legal profession generally? They appear to learn nothing from previous outrageous comments. In cases like this, what accountability mechanism is there to bring these men up to the mark?
26 August 2016
This concept, which Madeleine seems to endorse, that "...they (young women/girl) can be (and behave?) whoever they want to be" is very dangerous and bound to lead to personal hurt and tears and social meyhem. Madeleine, why don`t tell Faith "no you can`t; instead always behave with dignity and self-respect". And what about taking into account the weaknesses of others, who in a sense also become victims of such irresponsible and indecent behaviour.
26 August 2016
The biggest human challenge is learning to control one’s desires, whether they be power, materialistic or sexual.
It’s ok to be a great admirer of the beauty and miracle of the human body at every age. We should all be able to walk around naked and still show each other courtesy. Courtesy should not be dependent on the clothes you happen to be wearing. Courtesy needs to be shown no matter what. Provocation is in the eye of the beholder, it used to be “a glimpse of stocking was something shocking”. Btw I’m off to buy some trousers in case there is a fire and I need to climb a fence.
26 August 2016
Eugene, I would like to challenge your view here. Even if an underage girl walks up to a man completely naked and begging for sex, by law *she* is the victim if he agrees, not he. Adult men have the psycho-social maturity (though that is obviously not always apparent) to make a sound, responsible decision - young adolescents do not.
26 August 2016
Roy and Eugene, it is opinions such as yours, that boys will be boys and that it is us females who are responsible for controlling male desire, and that a short skirt is tantamount to a lack of self-respect, that perpetuate and reinforce the view that violence against women is acceptable. How about men stop raping people? Shouldn't that be the focus?
26 August 2016
And 50-60 years ago, convent girls were instructed that trousers/slacks were 'unladylike'. On stage, our 'hose and/breeches' had to be undivided!!
27 August 2016
Roy, your analogy doesn't work - if someone posts their internet banking password online, it is still a crime to steal their money. Vulnerability of the victim does not exculpate the offender.
Dr Frank Donovan
27 August 2016
Surely, Eugene your proposed admonition "no you can`t; instead always behave with dignity and self-respect" should be directed to the boys at school, not to the girls. IE 'no you cannot disrespect or rape a female child or adult, nor can you have sex with a girl under 16, full stop. How she dresses is for her to decide; how you respond is yours.
And, Roy, 'irrationality' is a term most frequently used by those who find behavioural, cultural, social or sexual difference threatening to their own sense of personal safety or security. It usually demands a change from the other rather than from the self. Hence 'skirts must be longer', goes the prescription, not 'boys must stop oggling'. For the same-sex-attracted, marriage is perfectly rational; while for those threatened by same-sex-attraction it is judged irrational. But, to pick up on your religious & cultural conclusion, "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour's eye." (Mathew 7:5)
Responsibility for my behaviour, Roy, rests with me, not she.
Roy Chen Yee
28 August 2016
JanetM, you confirm the point that irrationalities can be institutionalised until they appear to be God's own truth. HannahRobert, try replacing 'vulnerability' with 'stupidity'. In the first case, perhaps a case where she is mentally challenged or, for whatever reason, unusually naive, you gently tell the victim that she was imprudent. In the second, you ask her, perhaps a little stridently, what she was thinking. Either way, you tell her what she did was silly, unless, of course, it's now the preferred culture that it's OK in general for a female to send a nudie of herself to a male other than her husband? Well, it may be outside Eureka Street blogland but isn't the idea here to contest Catholic culture with the issues of life? You don't think Catholic culture might issue the Queensland girl with a teeny-weeny infringement ticket?
Roy Chen Yee
28 August 2016
"For the same-sex-attracted, marriage is perfectly rational; while for those threatened by same-sex-attraction it is judged irrational." Well, Dr Donovan, you do have a point here, that is, if you think it's rational for Lucifer to be given his tiny slice of the unlimited real estate that is Creation (visible and invisible) in return for us not being bombarded with temptation and the risk of eternal ruin. (I must confess I'm rather partial towards this idea.) But apparently, God thinks that's irrational. So, does God have a log in his eye? If he doesn't, I guess everything he does is rational, including coming up with the concept of a stumbling block Does the notion of a stumbling block mean that responsibility for your behaviour doesn't always rest with you? Apparently, the law regards under16s who have had consensual sex before enough of a stumbling block to acquit an accused. You might think God would never approve of such a law. Perhaps not, but I'd like to hear the Law's side of the story. So, maybe, skirts should get longer, or, better still, be replaced by trousers in case the only thing between death and life is a fence.
29 August 2016
I tried to answer Madeleine and Susie`s remote toy contribution, but seems to have been censored. So now with Frank adding censure as well, I will try again. My main point is that behaviour needs to take into account the realities of risk management in the red world where our fellow citizens do not always behave as we would want them to; I truly hope for the Kingdom of God but I also recognise that it is here only partially. Thus, I would dearly love to see all males everywhere behave lays like pure gentlemen; but I am also aware that there will be many men, though I think minority, who will not resist substantial temptation in sex matters. This will be a mix of genetic personality traits, and poor education, plus cultural and up-bringing factors. But it does mean that young women sensibly need to take these dangers into account in their behaviour and degree of vulnerability they expose themselves to. And this is NOT a value judgement, but purely pragmatic social risk prevention management, like your grandmothers understood; non-PC as it is.
Dr Frank Donovan
02 September 2016
Dear Roy, like rationality and irrationality, stumbling blocks tend to be created by humans - usually acting in their own perceived interests (whether to not fair or reasonable). I'm not sure God is either rational or irrational, though I am aware that both concepts are often attributed to God by humans - again acting in their own perceived self interests.
As for Lucifer's interest, I'm afraid you lost me there: I'm not sure he has any ideological preference for homosexual over heterosexual humans. Though I do recall he has a special interest in those who find it difficult to respect members of either sex, unless the image presented conforms to their own values about who and what should or should not be respected.
Surely i is not beyond us to admire a shapely pair of legs and respect the brain that commands them? Or should we be teaching our boys that a girl's worth is to be judged by the length off her skirt?