Offender gets four years while victim gets life
For a person whose innocence is stolen as a child and whose life has been irrevocably damaged, what constitutes justice?
Last month, Malcolm Fox was convicted of four counts of unlawful sexual intercourse. These crimes were perpetrated by him – a drama teacher - against a student who trusted and admired him. Today, a four-year sentence with a two year non-parole period was handed down. Fox is to appeal this decision.
The victim’s sentence is life. But for the perpetrator, it’s four years.
The victim’s impact statement, which was read in court, revealed a 43-year-old man who has spent most of his life battling depression, multiple suicide attempts and hospitalisations. He has struggled with addictive behaviours including drug use, alcohol and gambling. As with other victims one would assume these addictions have been acquired in an attempt to numb the pain and horror of his teacher’s sexual abuse.
It raises the question, on what basis can a sentence of four years be entirely suspended?
The court has heard that the victim had trusted Fox with his darkest secret, confiding that he had been previously sexually assaulted at the hands of another perpetrator. Fox did not report that prior abuse, nor inform the victim’s parents. Instead, he used that information to his own ends, grooming the already traumatised and confused adolescent and exploiting his victim’s vulnerability for his own sexual gratification.
No child is ever responsible for being abused. Malcolm Fox was in a position of authority, trust and power and he betrayed that position.
Judge Gordon Barrett said Fox’s offense against the 17-year-old in the 1980s was a serious breach of trust. However, he said Fox deserved mercy in sentencing.
The judge pointed to Fox’s poor psychological and physical health, long and distinguished career of public service, adding that he had ‘‘suffered’’ significant media attention during his trial.
Those factors, Judge Barrett said, warranted the suspension of Fox’s four-year prison term.
The victim in his impact statement further highlighted the impact of the abuse he suffered – his inability to complete his education, to reach his full career potential, and his relationship struggles with family and friends.
“It’s always felt unfair his life has continued normally while I was left with the legacy of his betrayal,” the victim stated.
Fox has claimed that the victim had ‘stolen his reputation’, but Fox did that to himself when he committed his crimes and engaged in unlawful sexual intercourse with an adolescent. Don’t we need to focus on the real victim in this case? So what degree of accountability has been demanded by our justice system for the perpetrator?
“Carrying this secret for so long has been exhausting and I always felt it was unfair that his life continued normally while I was left with the legacy of his betrayal,” the victim said.
“It has taken me years to overcome the legacy of betrayal that Malcolm Arthur Fox caused.”
The judge found that incarceration would mean that Fox’s mental health would suffer. It has reportedly been alleged that Fox has been suffering depression since the charges were laid. Given he has been found guilty of those charges Fox’s depression would appear to have been precipitated as a result of his own actions.
One would assume that consideration in sentencing should be given to the impact of the crime including the years of depression and multiple suicide attempts the innocent victim suffered.
I believe the fact this ‘high profile’ case has attracted media attention should be irrelevant. Crimes have been committed regardless of who perpetrated them, who was victimised and what has been reported.
The judge found that imprisonment would be ‘more difficult’ for Fox than for others. It seems however that the victim’s lifetime struggle and the difficulty he has had daily living the life he deserved has counted for little.
In my opinion, the fact that Fox had been alleged to have performed a service to the public and had a number of character references should also be irrelevant to the fact that a crime was committed.
History is full of perpetrators of crime whose friends and work colleagues have attested to their good name.
As a society we minimise the impacts on victims. Child sexual assault offends our sensibilities and so we would rather deny its existence and its often devastating repercussions. The story this victim tells is horrific but it is one mirrored by innumerable victims around the world.
It takes enormous courage for a victim of child sexual assault to overcome their own feelings of shame and self-blame. To have the courage and intestinal fortitude to deal with their issues sufficiently to lay charges. To speak out about their abuse and reveal their public shame in a court for all to hear. To undergo the protracted legal processes of delay and further delay; to have their testimony scrutinized and the very core of their betrayal questioned. And face invalidation and humiliation. To face up to the very person who stole their childhood and their innocence.
Pieta Thornton, a colleague and founder of Victims and Witnesses of Crime Court Support has shared her dismay and shock at this sentence. She has stated that this outcome has made her question ever recommending that any victim reports their crime of child sexual assault to the police. This is not to say that the police won’t conduct a thorough investigation and treat the victim with the utmost respect - they do. It is about what happens to the victim once the matter gets to court.
How can one, in all conscience, recommend that a victim open themselves up to a system and a process in which victims are re-traumatised and which may result in a suspended sentence. She and her fellow workers support victims of crime every day in their work. However she like us in ASCA must question the process in our courts which can result in such an outcome.
We appreciate only too well the effects of not reporting these crimes. Sexual offenders characteristically have multiple victims and child sexual assault often has devastating effects on victims, families and communities.
As it is a small percentage of these crimes are reported. The process is simply too harrowing. Further non-reporting undoubtedly will mean more victims will be left struggling and fewer perpetrators will be held to real account.
If perpetrators are not sentenced to jail time for crimes for which they have been found guilty why would any victim subject themselves to such a punishing process? It is time to take a long hard look at these systems and institute changes which will see that victims are vindicated.
For support for adult survivors of child abuse call Adults Surviving Child Abuse on 1300 657 380 Mon-Fri, 9-5, or visit their website.
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