The victims of crime lobby are getting shriller by the day. Its reaction in Melbourne this week to the meting out of a suspended jail term to a 29-year-old woman who had consensual sex with a 15-year-old boy is a case in point.
According to Crime Victims Support Association president Noel McNamara the woman, Diana Bennett, should have gone to jail. Mr McNamara of course, obliged the media by using that favourite cliché of the victims’ lobby when the courts don’t do the right thing by them — he was “disgusted” by the leniency of the sentence.
The facts of this case seem to be lost on Mr McNamara. Ms Bennett, who had rejected previous invitations from the 15-year-old boy to have sex with her, succumbed one morning, while still intoxicated from the previous evening’s carousing.
It was, said Judge Lance Pilgrim, a “foolish lapse” by the woman, who has had problems with binge drinking in the past but who is now addressing the matter. He rightly decided that Ms Bennett ought to be given a 12 month jail term, with 18 months suspended.
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In fact, one aspect of the sentence could be viewed as too harsh. Ms Bennett has been placed on the Sex Offenders Register for 15 years, according to media reports. This means that she bears the stigma of one early morning romp with a willing 15-year-old, for a heck of a long time.
Should the Sex Offenders Register, an American concept designed to placate public fear about paedophile and rapists roaming around the community, be utilized in cases where there is consensual sex between precious teenagers and adults only a few years older?
Surely not. The community does not need to be protected from Ms Bennett.
And should this case have gone to court at all? Ms Bennett is in no different position to Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, or the lonely soldier’s wife in Summer of ’42.
Is anyone seriously suggesting that our jails should be filled with individuals who have consensual one off sexual encounters with teenagers, who aren’t exactly virginal naïve cloistered children?
This is not to advocate that there is not an appropriate place for the criminal law in ensuring that adults do not take manipulate and take advantage of vulnerable young people. But we need to differentiate between such cases and the case of Ms Bennett.
The victims lobby needs to get a grip on itself. It should focus on the best way to help offenders – don’t waste the court’s time on cases such as Ms Bennett’s, that could be better resolved with a round table meeting and caution by police.