I want to start by saying that this is unlike anything that I normally write. Perhaps because it’s unlike anything I or any of us normally have to deal with. Normally my writing deals with issues such as lifestyle, sport and entertainment. Topics that allow me to take a light-hearted look at day-to-day topics and in the process, hopefully make people reading my work have a laugh.
Today is a little different.
It seems more than a little ironic that today, the International Day of Happiness, a day designed to celebrate the creation of happiness in the world around us, would instead be a day marred by grief, anger and fear.
Late Tuesday night, 17 year-old Masa Vukotic was stabbed to death while walking in a Doncaster park. It occurred just 500m from her home.
Where do we go from here?
For starters, let’s stop using the word ‘occurred’. ‘Occurred’ is a word we use to describe a freak event. Something that happens without warning. Something, which is often unpreventable. This was certainly not the case in this instance. The alleged attacker (and I use the word ‘alleged’ in its loosest sense) in fact turned himself in to police.
This isn’t just a country in grief over the murder of an innocent teenage girl. It’s a nation disgusted, furious and betrayed by a justice system, which is supposed to protect it. Instead, for the third time in less than as many years, the country has been rocked by a heinous crime being perpetrated by a repeat-offender.
First there was Adrian Ernest Bayley’s rape and murder of Jill Meagher. Bayley's history of violent attacks on women spans more than two decades. The Victorian Parole Board failed to cancel his parole after a violent assault and a judge's warning that the public needed to be protected from him. When he was 19, he raped two teenagers in separate attacks. He served just 22 months of a five-year sentence for sexual assault, later admitting he faked his way through a sex offenders' program to get early release. In September 2000, he began what Judge Tony Duckett described as “a horrendous wave of crimes against St Kilda sex workers, raping five prostitutes over a six-month period.”
Then there was the case of Martin Place gunman, Man Monis. Convicted of stalking his ex-partner, in December 2013 he was charged with being an accessory to her murder. He was granted bail.
According to a joint report by the federal and NSW governments released last month, “four months later, he was charged with sexual assault offences committed as a spiritual healer and was again released on bail.”
Now this. An innocent young woman killed in a park, allegedly by Sean Price. A man who, in addition to current charges, had previously been charged with threatening to kill two prison officers late last year, and served a previous stint in jail.
|Masa Vukotic's alleged killer sticks his finger up at media as he is taken into custody.|
The question we all seem to be asking now is; how many times does the justice system have to facilitate the crimes of these repeat-offenders, before it has to be held accountable as much as the criminals themselves?
This is the time to say what the Australian justice system seems unwilling to say; some people are unable to be rehabilitated and we need to stop behaving as if they are. We look at foreign nations whose justice systems execute perpetrators of such violent crimes and condemn them as being “primitive” and “brutal”, yet we foster a system, which instead allows those same criminals to return to society and re-offend, and we call ourselves “cultured” and “considerate”.
An Australian Bureau of Statistics study in 2008-09 found that, excluding Western Australia, nearly three-quarters (74%) of offenders had at least one police proceeding against them. More recently, a Sentencing Advisory Council report on re-offending looked at seven years of results from Victoria's busiest jurisdiction, the Magistrates' Court. It found convicted criminals are most likely to re-offend, especially those who have been to jail. More specifically, the report states that “an offender who has been sentenced twice or more is 193.4 per cent more likely to re-offend than a person with no recent sentences.
Even a single recent sentence makes a person 95.1 per cent more likely to re-offend.”
Stop and let this sink in for a moment. We live in a country that refuses to take a firm stance on crime it can’t profit from. Allow me to make an example; if you’re fined for even a minor traffic infringement and you choose to appeal the fine and appear in court, you must pay for your own legal representation and any costs incurred if your appeal is unsuccessful. On the other hand, Ms. Vukotic’s “alleged” killer is provided with “free” legal representation, which to add insult to injury is only “free” because it’s covered by tax payers. This means, that we’re living in a system where it is completely possible that the family of Ms. Vukotic is indirectly having to pay for the legal defence of the man charged with murdering their daughter.
We all have rights. The question here is; at what point does one forfeit their rights? At what point does one commit a crime so heinous that they are exempt from the rights afforded to the rest of society.
Perhaps what hurts us most is that we don’t see action as much as we hear excuses. We have a justice system that puts our police in a position where the best they can do is tell women to take care walking in parks. That’s an absolute cop out. This is a massive hole in the pavement and our justice system seems to have adopted the attitude that they shall leave it there and simply tell people to take care when walking past it. It’s their job to fix the hole. Crimes against women in particular are no longer an “occurrence”, they are a day-to-day reality. Research from the 2012 ABS Personal Safety Survey and Australian Institute of Criminology shows “over 3 times as many people experienced violence from a male.” Our justice system needs to stop putting its head in the sand and leaving the policing up to the victims rather than taking the action they either can’t or won’t. The moment a justice system puts the public in a position that they have to take their protection into their own hands, is the moment when that system’s existence becomes obsolete.
When “alleged” killer Sean Price stuck up his middle finger at cameras as he was taken into custody, he wasn’t simply sticking his finger up at the cameramen, he was sticking his finger up at Australia. At the families of his previous victims, at the family of his latest victim and at the millions of people around the world disgusted by his crimes. He didn’t just kill who Masa was, he killed who she could have become. He was sticking his finger up and he was smiling because he’s been processed by a system that has given him the confidence to believe that his crimes will go unpunished. It’s not naive to say we can do something about it being the last time something like this happens, but it is reckless to behave as though it won’t happen again.
This is more than simply an out-pouring of emotion. This is a unified and overwhelming vote of no confidence by the people in our justice system. It is essentially their third high-profile strike and they’re out.
**My most sincere condolences to the Vukotic-Celebic families**
Memory Eternal - Vecnaja Pamjat