A Lovefraud reader recently sent me a link to a tragic story from ABC News in Australia. Here’s how it began:
A man from Melbourne’s inner east has been sentenced to 11 years in prison for incest.
The 64-year-old man, who cannot be named, began abusing his two daughters when they were aged four and eight.
What was reported in the story is awful. From the outside, the family appeared to be privileged. In reality, the man abused and threatened his daughters for 14 years, “at the then family home in Prahran, on ski and overseas holidays, and while school friends were in the next room.”
The man’s actions are despicable, and I feel terrible for his daughters. But what really caught my attention in this story was the fact that the man “cannot be named.”
I looked into the issue. Here’s what I found: The Serious Sex Offenders Monitoring Act of 2005 in the state of Victoria, Australia, allows judges to issue suppression orders that prohibit the media from reporting the identities of sex offenders. The court may also prohibit reporting any information that might enable a sex offender, or any person appearing before the court in the case, to be identified.
And, the judges do it.
Escaped child molester
So here’s what happened in a case in January, 2010, reported by the Herald Sun. A convicted child rapist—we don’t know who—was not supposed to leave a compound for released sex offenders, but he did. While he was missing, the police did not notify the community that the man was at large, although they eventually released his identity and description.
After being on the loose for 57 hours, the sex offender was caught. At that point, told that the media release was likely a breach of a county court suppression order, the police withdrew it. The man’s lawyer said that because his client was in custody, there was no reason why his identity should be reported.
Media outlets rail against Victoria’s “many draconian, anti-free speech laws.” Here’s what the Herald Sun wrote in August, 2010, in a story headlined Silence in our courts attacks right to know:
In today’s paper, you can read about a sex offender who previously escaped from custody and has now been relocated by authorities in a country town. Again, this newspaper is not permitted to identify the sex offender, or even name the town.
That community is not allowed to know the identity of the man who may offer to drop their kids off at school one day.
Is that sex offender’s right to privacy more important than the safety of potential victims?
What is the purpose?
Why does Victoria have this law? I could almost see the reason for it in the incest case—if the man was named, people who knew him, and his children, would know that the children were victims of incest. I could possibly see suppressing the man’s name in order to protect the children.
But that doesn’t seem to be the case. This issue appears to be more about protecting the sex offender’s privacy.
In one case, a judge worried about the emotional and psychological effect of media reporting on the respondent, a sex offender who terrorized the women of Melbourne, Australia, for years. Publishing his identity, the judge fretted, might affect his rehabilitation.
This, of course, is stupid. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to rehabilitate habitual sex offenders.
One man’s campaign
Derryn Hinch, a radio personality in Australia, has taken the law on. On June 1, 2008, he held a “Name Them and Shame Them” rally on the steps of Parliament House. He announced the names of two sex offenders and published them on his website. He mounted a petition drive on his website, and eventually gathered 7,000 signatures.
In October, 2008, Hinch was arrested for contempt of court.
On July 30, 2010, the High Court of Australia agreed to hear the case. Here’s how Hinch announced it on his website:
It’s been a long journey and we’ve got a few kilometres to go yet but the next stop is the High Court of Australia. Today I won the right to be heard in the High Court in my battle –in layman’s terms –to make our courts more transparent. To make our courts more open. For evidence to be heard in public and the reasons given in public. To make our courts, especially County Court judges, genuinely consider the public interest when they order the suppression of the name of a serial rapist or a paedophile.
As it stands a law called an Extended Supervision Order protects criminals more than it protects the community. More than it protects you and your kids. It started out as a good law but it has been corrupted and more than 25 serial rapists and paedophiles are walking around the streets, living amongst you, and you cannot know who they are or what they look like. And this year we had the ludicrous and dangerous situation where a man removed an electronic ankle bracelet and escaped and police could not alert the media or the public until they had received court permission.
Now, I don’t know Derryn Hinch. I’ve never heard his radio show. For all I know, on other matters, he might be a lunatic. But any law that protects the identity of sex offenders is stupid, nuts, and undermines the safety of the community. I hope Derryn Hinch wins his court case.
Read Hinch’s editorials: