Tony Barrass, The Australian, July 23, 2007
AN 11-year-old boy forced two pre-school-aged girls to have sex with him, infected them with sexually transmitted diseases, but will not be prosecuted by Western Australian authorities.
Police yesterday confirmed that criminal charges would not be laid against the boy from Balgo, a troubled indigenous community in the northeastern reaches of the Great Sandy Desert 100km from the Northern Territory border, despite his being above the age of criminal responsibility under state law.
Although the incident is part of a continuing investigation, senior police have decided to treat the issue as a health matter, not a criminal one.
The Australian also understands the offender was never removed from the remote community, but was warned by a court not to go near his victims, believed to be aged five and six, and several other vulnerable youngsters.
Balgo’s Palyalatju Maparnpa Health Committee chief executive Christopher Cresp said the realities of outback life and the disjointed inter-agency response to such issues meant the boy could remain a danger to young girls in the area.
“If you’re asking me if there are workable, practical steps in place to make sure this boy and others like him don’t do this again, I must honestly say no,” Mr Cresp said.
Nineteen Aboriginal men and juveniles have been charged with 39 child sex offences in just two weeks as police move methodically across the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia in a major police blitz against rampant abuse in Aboriginal communities.
In February, another 15 men from the remote Kalumburu community, in the far north of the state, were charged with 103 offences.
As public concern deepened, the federal Government offered to replicate for Western Australia the package of support it had imposed on the Northern Territory, including army support, but the offer was flatly rejected by the Carpenter Government.
Acting Premier Eric Ripper said last week he wanted financial support, federal police and Medicare-funded doctors, but not the army.
The revelation about the 11-year-old Balgo boy highlights the difficulties police, health workers and child protection officers face trying to uncover the extent of child sex abuse in communities such as Halls Creek and Kalumburu.
Aboriginal children are sexually active at an early age and detectives were trying to separate clear criminal conduct from consensual sexual activity among minors to determine which cases could be successfully prosecuted.
Kimberley Inspector Paul LaSpina was reluctant to discuss the Balgo matter, but confirmed the investigation was continuing.
He said senior police had the discretion to prosecute and although the boy was older than 10 and criminally responsible under law, those who had examined the case believed it would be better handled as a health issue and it was in the public interest to do so. He refused to elaborate.
The Australian understands the incident happened late last year.
Detective Tom Mills, who is heading the Halls Creek investigation, said there were often mitigating circumstances that were not apparent when such a decision was made.
Mr Cresp said court orders meant nothing unless they were enforced.
“Out here, quite often that responsibility rests with the family of the offender, and I can say with some authority that many families are in no position to enforce these orders,” he said.
“And to warn someone of that age that they are not to go near someone else in a community this size is a nonsense. Many kids just don’t see any problem with this sort of sexual behaviour.”
Inter-agency and government responses to many issues facing remote communities were achieving little, Mr Cresp said. This would affect the boy’s rehabilitation.
“Apart from the obvious question of why someone so young had an STD to pass on in the first place, what happens when he goes off with his family to another town and doesn’t finish his treatment?” he said.
“It’s carried on into adolescence and the problem as a whole just never goes away.”