Keep an eye on this one

Future developments in this story from ABC Online will bear watching. I’ve heard such stories from several separate sources over the years, so I can’t say I’m utterly astounded. Nevertheless, it’s quite a weird feeling, watching a story of this sort unfold about someone you’ve known very well for over 20 years. It’s almost possible to understand the psyches of Anglican and Catholic church officials who covered up sexual abuse by their colleagues. One’s initial reaction is disbelief that someone you know and respect could possibly do such a thing, because it seems so out of character. There’s also a feeling of sympathy that someone who has worked tirelessly for 30 years or more and won justified respect for achievements in the public domain, might conceivably end their life in ignominious disgrace.

On the other hand, it seems those churchmen mostly failed to take the next step that I instinctively do, and that’s to project oneself into the situations of the (alleged) victims. What suffering might have been inflicted on children allegedly involved, and how might those events have affected their subsequent lives? I wasn’t sexually abused as a child, but I came frighteningly close at the hands of a music teacher when I was about thirteen. It caused me to give up piano lessons, something I’ve always regretted, although I still bash away at the ivories periodically, to the chagrin of neighbours who might well wish I’d become a bit more proficient!

Within a few months of that, I was also one of a group of boys who managed to avoid sexual assault at the hands of a couple of perverted scoutmasters, by bolting from the scout camp, catching the bus home and refusing ever to go back. Fortunately the scoutmasters were eventually caught and served time in prison , though not as a result of being dobbed in by us bolters: – we just voted with our feet and kept quiet.

The events undoubtedly had a psychological effect on me for some time afterwards, particularly on my ability to trust adult authority figures. From being a very high-achieving, almost sickeningly well-behaved student, I began exhibiting pretty marked rebellious behaviour and my academic results suffered accordingly. Fortunately I largely managed to pull myself together by about Year 10, although I still reckon I could have done better if it hadn’t been for those events. It’s even possible that it’s part of the explanation for my lifetime habit of being an instinctive outsider and non-joiner of organised groups. The ongoing effects for victims of actual childhood sexual abuse (as opposed to thwarted attempts) are immeasurably greater, as suicide figures and psychiatric admissions attest.

PS – I’ll be moderating comments to this post fairly vigilantly, due to the obvious risks of defamation or prejudicing future legal proceedings. Please be cautious.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

two comments Ken,
1) keep an eye on what He was doing recently and who might lose from reforming that situation.

2) If both Anglican and Catholic people had actually taken notice of biblical teachings they wouldn’t have got into as much trouble as they did and they would still have their reputations.

Paul Watson
2022 years ago

“Perverted scoutmasters” – who would have thought that?

OTOH, I can’t wait for some rabid right-winger to deduce from – and then bang on about – this story:
http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/07/01/1088488097282.html?oneclick=true
that teenage boys can’t even stand around a fire and pee it out anymore.

Ron Mead
Ron Mead
2022 years ago

It’s pretty hard to separate the wheat from the chaff in these child abuse cases involving unsubstantiated allegations from long ago. I suggest we all wait until some evidence is appropriately tested.

Nothing to do with child abuse, but the latest story on Mark Latham’s aggressive tendencies also highlights the media’s propensity to sensationalise allegations where one party has a lot more to lose than the other.

John Howard was asked by the ABC to comment on the latest Latham beat-up. His response was reportedly “No, I think I may have lost my temper as a very young child and thrown a punch at one of my young brothers, one of my older brothers, but I think he probably threw a punch at me too,” he said.

Mr Howard says he has never assaulted an adult.”

Can’t you just see the SMH headline: “Howard admits assaulting Children.”

kkgurband dal
2022 years ago

what would the ppoint of that be donty it just make the maiinstream press think thatw elbog are bad uncvilizesd places?

Craig G
Craig G
2022 years ago

Blody hell kkgurband. you’re about as pissed as I am. Being Friday night an’ all.

I just dropped in to say – only 4 comments on a post so contentious?.

You must be being very vigilant Ken.

observa
observa
2022 years ago

The bit about getting over the initial shock, that a colleague of some standing, turns out to be not what you thought is probably a poignant one. After all paedophiles are someone’s son, brother, husband, etc. Their colleagues probably feel some degree of guilt by association for failing to suss out one of their own. I guess then comes the problem that devout Christians within the church are probably going to be more forgiving of human sin than the broader public, which begs the question- How strongly should they be castigated or vilified by us for that?

Ken’s brush with paedophilia is probably more common than we would prefer to believe. My daughter, currently studying YR12 at a public school, takes pains to avoid a male teacher, she and her friends label ‘creepy’. There is probably one in every large school, when you delve a bit deeper into these things. Most kids will probably brush up against a ‘creepy’ at some stage with little harm done. This is much more problematic where the child victim does not have a loving and caring group of adults in their lives generally. Those in foster care and the like would be particularly prone to long term scars.

Al Bundy
Al Bundy
2022 years ago

Sorry to indulge in a ‘pissing contest’ in your comments here, Ken, particularly in a thread of such gravity, but I can’t let Paul Watson’s brainfart go unchallenged.

OK, Paul. I believe I speak for rabid right-wingers everywhere. What the hell are you on about?

Back on-topic, I’d only say that someone in Collins’ position must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise.

I believe and fully understand the seriousness of the accusations and descriptions given in the post and comments so far, but I have also seen an innocent person ruined by vexatious allegations aired on network television. The fact that someone is found innocent in a court of law will never undo the damage of a sensational headline.

This what you were talking about, Homer?

tim
tim
2022 years ago

I don’t think anybody who’s met or spent time with Collins would be inclined to believe these claims.

That said, his accusers may be equally trustworthy.

Brian Bahnisch
Brian Bahnisch
2022 years ago

I would much prefer we didn’t know about these things when they are in the investigation stage. Apart from the accused I’m sure it can be extremely difficult for close family.

There is a difiiculty in these cases with memory and standards of proof. I heard Prof Bob Montgomery of Canberra Uni talking about the issue on RN’s ‘Life Matters’ program one morning. He points out that our memory is more plastic than generally thought. Each time we access a memory we do so in a particular context and for a particular purpose. He is quite definite that the memory we ‘file’ after each access changes in some way from the last time we accessed it. Such changes can be quite substantial.

He cited an instance where three sisters were repeatedly sexually abused by their father. They were very close to each other and gave each other great support. All three were able to lead relatively normal lives and establish successful intimate relations (partners, families etc).

Some decades later they came together and discussed their childhood experiences. They could not even agree whether there had been sexual penetration and one woman changed her position on this having been persuaded by her sister.

Prof Bob stressed the difficulty under these circumstances of obtaining convictions, especially well into the past, when the standard of proof is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. He did stress, however, that whatever the accuracy of the victim’s memory, it was their memory, and as such had to be respected and taken seriously in terms of counselling etc.

He didn’t say what he thought of assisted memory retrieval under hypnosis, but I imagine he would have given it short shrift.

Paul Watson
2022 years ago

“Al Bundy”,

I belive the shock-jock script would go something like this:

“In MY day, we had scouts to toughen us up. Nowadays, with girls in the packs – as leaders even – scouting might as well be one big gender awareness love-in for the PC comrades.

And what was wrong with a bit of Greco-Roman wrestling, anyway? Yes, my local scoutmaster insisted that we do it in the nude, but I’ll tell you something – doing it in the Belanglo State Forest, in the middle of winter – now THAT made men of us lot, men who had gone in as boys.

And that’s the trouble with the nanny-state PC brigade these days – they have chucked the baby out with the bathwater, when it comes to stopping the perverted acts of what was only ever a few isolated individuals.

Good clean fun things, like teenage boys standing in a circle and peeing out the campfire – now apparently BANNED with predictable disastrous results. [Summary of Utah story] If you won’t let boys be boys, then one thing is clear as day -fires will be bushfires.”

Al Bundy
Al Bundy
2022 years ago

Er, OK, Paul. Let me know when you find a genuine RWDB saying the same things.

TJW
TJW
2022 years ago

For some reason, Brian Bahnisch’s comment reminded of that movie/play “Oleanna”.

The tagline from the movie (starring William H. Macy): He said it was a lesson. She said it was sexual harassment. Whichever side you take, you’re wrong.

martin
2022 years ago

Hi Ken,
long time lurker, enjoy your stuff yadda yadda.

Some points of law regarding the Bob Collins case that you may be able to clear up for me….
Is he being charged under Federal or Territory law ? I know the Territory is ostensibly under federal control, but has its own parliament etc; The reason I ask is because of the reported approach by the investigating police…

1) The Collins property (in Darwin ?) was searched while Collins was in Royal Adelaide Hospital, and all his family were in Adelaide. What rioghts, if any, do suspects have to an independent witness at any search and seizure ?

2) Police retrieved a computer hard disk from the property. If this disk holds any emails, are the police at the risk of breaching lawyer-client confidentiality ?

3) or have I been watching too many american law shows ?

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Martin,

Collins hasn’t been charged with any offence (and who knows whether he will be). If he was, I would expect it to be under NT law. I don’t know anything about the search of his home and apparent seizure of a computer other than what we’ve both read in the paper. Normally a warrant would need to be quite specific about the sorts of material being sought, and normally seizure of material subject to legal professional privilege would not be authorised by the warrant. I vaguely recall there being an issue about this in a recent high profile case, but I can’t remember the details. Perhaps a reader might be able to help us. I’m not a criminal law expert, I only have a general practitioner’s acquintance with the area.

Paul Watson
2022 years ago

I’m puzzled as to why the risk of contempt (aka prejudicing future legal proceedings) hardly ever seems o be taken seriously by the media when its line is a pro-accused one. Thus we have these comments (which I’ve reproduced in full) by former Northern Territory chief minister Paul Everingham. Originally made an ABC radio (Darwin) program, they were published as “Former Collins rival blasts sex claims” by Richard Sproull, in today’s Australian (no URL):

“My own knowledge about Bob Collins, frankly, is that he’s a good guy and I’d be delighted to give him a character reference any time.

“I think he’s a straight guy who’s served the Territory well and I think all of this, whoever’s done it is a scumbag.

“As far as I’m concerned, allegations against Bob Collins are scurrilous and the timing of them sickens me.

“It’s a wonder that anyone ever wants to go into public life now.

“[Elderly Arnhem Land missionary] Rupert [Kentish] would have known every dog that had pups out in those parts of the world.

“I’m sure that Rupert would have let us know (if he had heard anything) because back in those days something like this would have been just as politically hot as it is today.

“I think we would have heard about it.”

It’s hard to know where to begin with the contempt aspects of this, so I won’t say too much more.

I want to highlight, though, what is probably one of Paul Everingham’s more innocuous comments, about being willing to give Collins a character reference. I’ve long thought that the giving of character references in this context skates on legal thin ice (which isn’t to say that it is not common and widely-accepted).

Why is pro-accused *media* commentary contemptuous (in theory, anyway), but nakedly partisan in-court character references acceptable? Such “references” surely prove *nothing* about the character of the accused, other than the social status of their friends.

My suggestion, then is that the curial use of character references should be severely circumscribed. Apart from when the referee is a parent or in loco parentis (priest, work-supervisor, or other mentor [and *not* simply high-status friend]), the giving of character references should be banned by courts. Such references, even if allowed only in the sentencing phase, pervert the idea of equal justice.

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2022 years ago

Paul,

I don’t think any jury is less likely to find Collins guilty (not that I’m saying he is) just because Paul Everingham says he’s a good bloke.

David Tiley
2022 years ago

But it is a touching bipartisan moment, couched in the brutal terms of a frontier society.

mark
mark
2022 years ago

Ken,

The issue about legal privelege and seizure of the hard disk was an issue in a recent high profile case involving a hard disk seizure by ASIC (i think) of Trevor Kennedy’s hard disk in the investigation involving swiss bank acocunts by Kennedy / Richardson / Rivkin. I’m not a lwayer but my understanding was Kennedy lost appeal against the seizure and his claim of legal privelege because his relationship with the swiss lawyer extended beyond the strictly legal relationship?

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Mark,

Yes, I’m sure that’s the matter I had in mind. However, it simply confirms that legal professional privilege generally can’t be violated by a search warrant. The warrant only authorised seizure in the Kennedy case because, as you say, the relationship between Kennedy and the Swiss lawyer extended well beyond the giving of legal advice, and LPP only protects communications within the ambit of the lawyer-client relationship. Of course, as far as I know, none of this has anything to do with the Collins matter.

Turning to Paul Watson’s comment, I agree that pro-accused comments like those of Paul Everingham are just as problematic as anti- ones in terms of their potential to prejudice future jurors. Of course, Collins hasn’t even been charged with anything let alone committed for jury trial, so you wouldn’t normally expect comments at this stage, whether pro or anti, to be subjected to terribly rigorous media vetting for contempt purposes. If charges are laid, I would then expect media coverage to be much more circumspect.

I also note Everingham’s reference to the “timing” of the Collins allegations. Although a bit oblique, that comment seems to echo one by Homer Paxton earlier in this comment thread. I assume both are referring to Collins’ role on the recent federal government enquiry into ATSIC, and that they’re suggesting that some Aboriginal people might be out to “get” Collins because of ATSIC’s demise. Whatever else may be said, there are at least 2 reasons why those sorts of conspiracy theories aren’t tenable:
(1) The enquiry of which Collins was a member did not recommend ATSIC’s abolition;
(2) More importantly, to my specific knowledge these allegations have been around and being expressed for some years, long before the ATSIC enquiry was ever commenced or considered. It’s presumably taken until now for the complainants to get the ear of officials who took their complaints seriously enough to order a police investigation. Of course, that says nothing at all about guilt or innocence, but you certainly can’t sensibly assume that there is any “timing” element that makes them inherently suspect.

I also agree with Paul Watson that the use of personal references in criminal sentencing is problematic unless, as you observe, the referee has real and relevant knowledge about the offender’s usual behaviour etc in (say) a workplace situation. Even then, if such references are given any more than minimal weight, they carry the risk that well-connected middle class ofenders will tend to be treated more leniently than the poor and marginalised. I suspect that this is part of the explanation for the fact that Aboriginal offenders throughout Australia tend to have significantly higher imprisonment rates that non-indigenous ones, despite recommendations by the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody some years ago. Another aspect is that Aboriginal offenders typically aren’t in a position to pay significant fines and don’t have home situations making them suitable for home detention orders.

jen
jen
2022 years ago

I’m so glad they are saying it in the mainstream.
Wonder what will happen now?