Australian police rule out sweep after child rape horror

  • World
  • Thursday, 13 Dec 2007

By Rob Taylor

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australian police on Thursday ruled out a widespread operation to stamp out child sexual assault in Aboriginal townships despite the gang rape of a 10-year-old girl in a remote community that shocked the nation. 

A prosecutor who described the rape as "naughty" and "a form of childish experimentation" involving a willing participant has been stood down over his failure to demand jail terms for nine who pleaded guilty to the crime. 

The verdict sparked public outrage at a time when Australians have been soul-searching over Aboriginal welfare since the former conservative government sent troops and police in the Northern Territory outback to end child sexual abuse and alcoholism. 

But the Commissioner of Police in Queensland state, where the rape occurred, said he saw no need to extend a crackdown already under way in the neighbouring outback Northern Territory to stamp out rampant child sexual abuse in indigenous townships. 

"There's no need for a special operation at this stage," state Police Minister Judy Spence said after talks with Commissioner Bob Atkinson. 

A judge found the 10-year-old girl had "probably agreed" to have sex with the males in the northern Cape York township of Aurukun in 2006 after a troubled past in which she had been sexually abused at age 7. 

She had been removed from the community after that assault and placed in foster care, but later returned to Aurukun, one of several small communities on the sprawling Cape where just 18,000 people live in an area the size of Germany. 

Six of the rapists received 12-month probation orders, with no convictions recorded. Three others aged 17, 18 and 26 were given suspended sentences. 

New centre-left Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he was "appalled" by the case. Aboriginal leaders and child protection activists called for a judicial inquiry and revision of child protection laws. 

"We have seen this before and we will see it again unless and until we throw out the existing models of child protection and foster care and start again," said Muriel Bamblett, who heads the nation's peak body for Indigenous children. 

Aborigines are Australia's most disadvantaged group with many living in third-world conditions in remote outback settlements. 

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said the welfare of Aborigines would head the agenda for a pre-Christmas meeting between Rudd and state leaders in Melbourne next week. 

Bligh's high-profile predecessor, Peter Beattie, said the time had come to make indigenous welfare a national government responsibility. 

"This is an international disgrace and we need a national response that's not about victimising, it's not racist, but is actually a cooperative partnership with indigenous communities," Beattie told ABC radio. 

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