Maybe I’ve missed it, but there seems to be a very muted response from the Australian public to a story that broke overnight which should be stoking widespread outrage. Chris Graham explains.
The rape case, from a regional court in Victoria, involves two young men ganging up on a female friend at a 21st birthday party in 2016. The story has been widely reported by national media, in some cases multiple times. Here’s the ABC’s take:
Two men twice convicted of raping and sexually assaulting a woman at a party in regional Victoria seven years ago have been spared further prison time, and will instead serve community corrections orders.
Following a retrial last year, Shaun Bloomfield, of Horsham, and Luke Merryfull, of Geelong, both 28, were sentenced for the rape today in the Melbourne County Court. The men raped a young woman in a caravan at a party near Balmoral, south of Horsham in western Victoria, in April 2016.
The pair’s initial convictions were overturned on appeal after a witness came forward with new evidence the day after the men were jailed in April 2019.
Bloomfield and Merryfull each spent 522 days in prison before the Court of Appeal overturned their convictions in September 2020.
The case then went to several retrials before the men were convicted for the second time in August last year, after pleading not guilty to the charges against them.
That’s the bare facts. Now here’s how it’s being reported over in Korea: “Two men convicted of raping a woman in 2016, have walked free from court, with a judge ruling they shouldn’t spend any more time behind bars. They’d already been jailed for a year. (sic) But county court judge David Brookes said they’d suffered enough, given extraordinary delays in the case.”
The poor bastards. Imagine having to suffer through ‘extraordinary legal delays’, a substantial proportion of which happened to be the direct result of their first conviction being appealed… by them.
Slow clap for the Australian justice system for yet another demonstration of how wildly incapable it is of dealing rationally and equitably with the crime of rape.
Unfortunately, the problem here is not merely the sentencing of the two men, which is manifestly inadequate. The problem is also the comments of the sentencing judge, David Brookes. For the real gravity of that to emerge, this version of the story from news.com.au better assists.
Judge Brooks rejected suggestions the men genuinely believed she had consented, blasting their actions on the night as “appalling”.
Stop you there, judge. The behaviour of Merryfull and Bloomfield wasn’t ‘appalling’. It was a series of violent, criminal sexual assaults. And bear in mind, these two young men attacked a friend. We’re all left to contemplate how their ‘disgraceful behaviour’ might have been characterised had their target been a complete stranger. Moving on…
“Each of you knew she wasn’t consenting but you went ahead believing or hoping nothing would come of it.” [Judge Brookes] said they had shown a “certain degree of callousness” towards the victim as merely an object for them to have their way with.
A ‘certain degree of callousness’? My understanding has always been that the pack rape of a woman involved more than that. I thought that participation in a pack rape – by virtue of the fact that it was a pack rape – necessarily involved something like, maybe, an ‘extreme degree of callousness’. Also, violence. Indeed, my understanding was that pack rape was amongst the worst crimes anyone could commit.
The court heard their victim had moved interstate, feeling “ostracised” by the community she grew up in.
“She has a substantial loss of confidence and trust in everything and anyone – it impacts upon all aspects of her life,” Judge David Brookes said as he handed down his sentence. “She has serious mental health problems relating to post traumatic stress disorder, depressive episodes and severe anxiety. Her view of the world and her trust of people will always be affected.”
Exactly. So remind me again how the two men responsible for that were sentenced to ‘time already served’?
“In my view, this is one of the rare cases where ordinary members of the community would not necessarily expect a further term of imprisonment be imposed,” Judge Brookes found.
With respect Judge Brookes, in my view, that’s complete nonsense. I consider myself to be an ‘ordinary member of the community’, and I think, necessarily, Merryfull and Bloomfield should be sentenced to a length of incarceration that’s commensurate with their crime. “[A]bout 19 months in custody” feels like it falls, to put it mildly, a very long way short of that.
And finally, to the most staggering and perplexing of Judge Brookes’ comments: “I have no doubt you [both]have solid prospects of resuming a lawful life after your release.”
Really? Square that away with this fact: “Both men… were found to have made significant steps to rehabilitate their lives despite denying any wrongdoing.”
How, seven years on, can two pack rapists who perpetrated a monstrous crime against a vulnerable, trusting friend still deny any culpability whatsoever, and yet demonstrate to the satisfaction of a court that they have made ‘significant steps’ towards rehabilitation?
That is bullsh*t. Any ‘progress towards rehabilitation’ is eliminated by a refusal to accept you committed the crimes of which you were convicted.
How is the survivor of the assault, or any other woman supposed to accept these men back into their community, if they still refuse to acknowledge the sexual violence they perpetrated? And why would men accept them back either?
Those comments alone should disqualify Judge Brookes from any further participation in, at the very least, rape trials, if not the broader Victorian criminal justice system. They are an outrage, and they diminish all Australians – men in particular. They cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged.
Additionally, both these men belong back in jail, and their term of imprisonment should be influenced by how long they continue to refuse to accept any responsibility for their actions.
Chris Graham is the editor of New Matilda, recently returned from a lengthy absence due to illness. His last major feature was entitled Defending The Indefensible: The Case For Reforming A Justice System That Fails Half The Population and dealt specifically with the Australian legal system’s handling of rape cases.
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