Page last updated at 14:31 GMT, Monday, 10 December 2007

Rape case ruling shocks Australia

An Australian soldier at the entrance to an Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory - file photo
Sexual abuse has been a noted problem in indigenous communities

A judge's decision not to jail nine men guilty of raping a 10-year-old girl in an Aboriginal community has triggered outrage in Australia.

The offenders were either placed on probation or given suspended sentences for the 2005 rape in the Aurukun settlement, in northern Queensland.

In her ruling, Judge Sarah Bradley told them that the victim "probably agreed to have sex with all of you".

A review of sexual abuse sentences in Aboriginal Queensland has been ordered.

Sentencing seven of the accused in Cairns in October, Judge Bradley told them that the girl involved was not forced into sex, according to a report in The Australian newspaper.

She placed six of the offenders, who were minors at the time of the rape, on probation for 12 months, local media said.

The three other defendants were handed suspended six-month prison sentences.

Judge Bradley later defended her sentencing, telling The Australian that the sentences were "appropriate" because they were the penalties sought by the prosecution.

'No excuse'

But Australia's newly-elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has spoken out against the ruling, saying he was "appalled" by the verdict after it was revealed in the Australian press on Monday.

"I am horrified by cases like this, involving sexual violence against women and children. My attitude is one of zero tolerance," he told reporters in Queensland, his home state.

I am not prepared to just write this off as an unusual one-off case
Anna Bligh
Queensland Premier
Boni Robertson, an Aboriginal activist in Queensland, said there could be no excuse for the judge's decision.

"There is nothing culturally, there is nothing morally, there is nothing socially and there is definitely nothing legally that would ever allow this sort of decision to be made," she said.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has now announced a review of all sentences given over the last two years in the communities in the Cape York region where the case occurred.

"I am not prepared to just write this off as an unusual one-off case," she said.

"I want to satisfy myself that the people of Cape York, and the people who live in remote indigenous communities, are receiving the same level of justice as we can expect in any other community in Queensland."

The offenders came from some of the most powerful and prominent Aboriginal families in Cape York, while the victim's family had a lower status, The Australian reported.

The case comes six months after a high-profile inquiry into child sex abuse in remote northern Australia said it found problems in every Aborigine community visited by researchers.

That inquiry led to an intervention programme in the Northern Territory.

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