Australia: The latest atrocity of authorities failing Aboriginal women & children in remote areas
Sydney Morning Herald -- Wednesday November 22 2006
Girl, 11, easy meat for rapist, court toldLindsay Murdoch in Darwin
NORTHERN Territory health workers and police ignored the plight of an 11-year-old indigenous girl who a man raped in public and then took as his so-called "promised wife" for nine years under the guise of traditional Aboriginal law.
The treatment of the girl, who a judge described as "easy meat" for the man with a long criminal history, is the latest in a series of crimes where authorities have failed to protect Aboriginal women and children in remote areas.
These include the bashing to death of a 27-year-old pregnant woman after 11 years of abuse and a succession of alleged rapes of an 11-year-old boy by 10 males.
In the Northern Territory Supreme Court, Justice Dean Mildren said nobody on Groote Eylandt, including white people, stepped in to help the girl, identified in court as LM. She was only 12 when she was forced to live as the wife of the man, Owen Bara, who fathered her three children, one a five-year-old girl whom he brutally assaulted.
Justice Mildren told the court in Darwin that "perhaps in some cases they may have thought this was a traditional marriage and it was perfectly okay and lawful, but of course it was not a traditional marriage, nothing like it and not put up as such".
The practice of Aboriginal elders taking children as "promised wives" has been under scrutiny since another judge in the territory last year sentenced a 55-year-old man to one month's jail for raping and bashing a 14-year-old girl, saying he took into account the man's belief that he was within his rights to violate the girl because she had been promised to him when she was four.
After an outcry, appeal judges increased the sentence to three years.
Bara, 34, admitted in court to maintaining an unlawful relationship with the girl after grabbing and raping her while she was walking home from school just before her 12th birthday in September 1995.
She was forced to live with him as his wife until she was 20 when she managed to leave him "because of domestic violence issues", the court heard. Justice Mildren said Bara's relationship with the girl was open and not even health workers involved in the birth of her children, who "would have known surely" how old LM was, stepped in to help her.
Justice Mildren said the "police who know everything on Groote [Eylandt]", relatives and teachers also failed to intervene. "Some may have thought this was a traditional marriage and therefore none of their business," he said.
At the time Bara took the girl to live with him she was not in the care of her parents or any adult "so she was easy meat".
"She had motherhood thrust upon her when she was too young," Justice Mildren said. "She was easy pickings," he said. "She had no one to look after her."
On November 17 Justice Mildren sentenced Bara, who is unemployed and has more than 90 previous convictions, to 10 years' jail with a non-parole period of seven years for rape and three counts of aggravated assault. He had pleaded guilty.
The territory's coroner, Greg Cavanagh, last month urged urgent action to stop what he called gross violence against women in indigenous areas after inquiring into the death of Jodie Palipuaminni, a 27-year-old pregnant woman who was bashed to death on Coburg Peninsula by a man she had been promised to under Aboriginal law.
The murder had been predicted by a psychologist two years earlier but authorities failed to protect Ms Palipuaminni despite a long history of domestic violence against her.
This year sexual assaults against an 11-year-old boy continued in Maningrida, 500 kilometres east of Darwin, after he had gone to a clinic with injuries and a sexual disease.
A Darwin magistrate described the offences against the boy by 10 males as the worst he had seen.
The NT Government has set up an inquiry into the sexual abuse of children in remote communities. The inquiry's findings are expected in April.