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Discharge for child sex exploiter condemned

2 December 2015

Discharge for child sex exploiter condemned

A group that has spent years campaigning for tougher penalties for those who fuel online child sex abuse material has condemned a judge’s decision to discharge an offender.

Wellington District Court Judge Peter Butler issued, on Friday, a discharge without conviction to a 40-year old Wellington IT professional, despite him pleading guilty to 47 charges of possessing child sex abuse material. Name suppression was also granted.

Stop Demand founder Denise Ritchie says “The judge noted that the material contained the ‘obvious sexual violation of children’ yet he proceeded to show greater concern about the offender’s future job prospects than any devastating impact on the child victims.”

Judge Butler granted the discharge despite Police opposition. Prosecutor Lucette Kuhn argued that the behaviour was "serious offending" and that in fuelling demand, the offending perpetuated the crime. She submitted that a discharge would be “alarming”.

Ritchie says, “The decision is completely out-of-step with Parliament’s strong message to the judiciary in April, when it doubled custodial penalties for possession. To impose a fine or community work would have been disturbing enough. But a decision to discharge the offender without conviction and grant name suppression has to be condemned.”

The judge took account of the offender’s guilty plea, subsequent therapy and that he had resigned from his job. But Stop Demand points out that guilty pleas are common in such cases, arising from irrefutable evidence rather than remorse.

The 47 charges each attracted up to 10 years imprisonment. Stop Demand says that the Court’s “free pass” sets a disturbing precedent. “It also runs counter to global efforts to crack down on all who fuel demand for such material. Every download fuels demand.”

Defence lawyer Mike Antunovic reportedly spoke of his client’s “excitement” when the images of children “popped up” when the offender, himself a father of two young children, was viewing pornography on a Russian website. “Anyone with a shred of humanity would be sickened, not excited, at child rape material,” adds Ritchie.

Stop Demand highlights the weakness in such cases where judges do not get to hear, firsthand, the psychological torment victims endure throughout their life, instead often being swayed by pitiful excuses trotted out by offenders and their counsel.

Stop Demand believes the case highlights the urgent need for judicial training on this modern-day crime, to achieve consistency across sentencing. “Some judges take the global child rape trade seriously. Others clearly do not,” says Ritchie.


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