Russell Skelton, The Age (Melbourne), May 16, 2006
Alice Springs Crown prosecutor Nanette Rogers has described in shocking detail an epidemic of sexual abuse and violent death — especially among women and young children — that pervades indigenous communities throughout central Australia.
Ms Rogers, who has handled hundreds of cases of sexual assault in 12 years as a prosecutor, has prepared a graphic dossier that includes a description of how a six-year-old girl was drowned while being raped by an 18-year-old man, as horrified children cried for help.
In another case, a 12-year-old girl was taken from her community by a traditional owner, tied to a tree for several weeks and repeatedly raped. She eventually became pregnant and gave birth.
And in another case, Ms Rogers described how a two-year-old girl required “internal and external” surgery after being sexually abused. Her mother and the father had been drunk at the time of the assault, which was carried out by a young man.
“The volume (of sexual assault) is huge and I don’t have a single file in my room that is not related to violence. Seventy per cent of the cases are violent crimes against women. The practice comprises homicides, grievous bodily harm, adult sexual assaults and child sexual assaults.”
Ms Rogers’ disclosures are in a dossier obtained by the ABC’s Lateline program. They are based on case files that have come across her desk, confirming in horrific anecdotal detail a level of sexual abuse that has gone unchecked in remote indigenous communities where there are often few or no police.
She said witnesses and victims were often forced to retract evidence because of intense cultural pressure and, as a result, many cases went unprosecuted.
Rather than blame alcohol and substance abuse for what she says are staggering levels of domestic and community violence, Ms Rogers said indigenous communities, especially the men, must accept responsibility for the violence. She said the causes of the violence could be traced to a culture that promoted male authority over women.
Ms Rogers’ views, broadcast at length on Lateline last night, are drawn from a paper she delivered to a recent closed conference of police officers. They are certain to cause controversy in the Northern Territory, which has the highest rates of murder and physical assault in Australia.
Sexual violence has been a largely taboo subject in the NT, an issue seldom, if ever, publicly addressed by Aboriginal leaders and never openly addressed by the NT Government. There are few programs for domestic violence among indigenous organisations.
Ms Rogers, who declined to be interviewed by The Age last night, told the ABC of another case in which a small baby was stabbed twice in the leg by a man attempting to kill her mother. In another case a teenager witnessed his grandfather being stabbed repeatedly in the throat. “These kids see violence as an everyday part of their life and many of them become violent themselves,” she said.
She said that out of this culture often emerged a pattern where the boys “beat their wives” and their sisters were “beaten by their husbands”. Asked if violence was a built into the culture she said: “Yes.”
She said that young men were given a status in the community where they were not made accountable for their actions.
Ms Rogers said she had given up being a public defender after becoming “sick of acting for violent Aboriginal men”.
“Small children become so inured to the violence. It doesn’t augur well for Aboriginal people to be functional human beings with the attributes for turning around and caring for children themselves,” she told the ABC.
The Federal Government will help the Northern Territory fix alcohol prices in a bid to stamp out alcohol abuse, parliamentary secretary for health and ageing, Christopher Pyne, has promised.
After a meeting of state and federal health and police ministers yesterday, Mr Pyne pledged to help the NT overcome obstacles such as competition laws, which prevent it from setting alcohol prices or otherwise regulating liquor sales.
“We want pricing to be available as a tool to the Northern Territory Government in combating their alcohol problems,” Mr Pyne said. How that would be practically worked out was still to be decided, he said.
In the past, some NT retailers have attempted to band together to increase the price of alcohol in what they said was a bid to stop abuse. But the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission opposed the move, saying it amounted to price fixing. The ACCC also found the price rise would not stop people buying alcohol, but simply leave them less money to spend on essentials such as food.