Jill Meagher’s murder: our legal system is letting women down
Meagher’s murderer was found guilty of 20 rapes in the span of 23 years. Australia’s courts do not know how to sentence or rehabilitate rapists
Jill Meagher was killed in a laneway in Melbourne. Photograph: PAJill Meagher was killed in a laneway in Melbourne. Photograph: PA
When the suppression order was revoked, we were publically allowed to say what we all knew: Adrian Earnest Bayley was a prolific, vicious rapist who was out on parole when he raped and murdered Jill Meagher.
Over 23 years, 11 of which were spent in prison, Bayley was found guilty of 20 rapes. Despite eviscerating sentencing monologues from judges, Bayley never served a full sentence.
Yesterday’s public admission highlights Australia’s legal system still does not know how to investigate, sentence or rehabilitate rapists. Bayley has successfully manipulated these failings for his criminal advantage for over two decades.
He manipulated rehabilitation, admitting he had “gone through the motions” in a sex offender program so he could get early release after less than two years served for the rape of two women and attempted rape of another. He also potentially manipulated sentencing for his advantage by attacking sex workers, who it seems are less likely to receive appropriate protection. After a series of horrifically brutal rapes in St Kilda, Bayley served eight years of an 11 year sentence. That’s just over one year and a half for each of the five victims he repeatedly raped. Judge Duckett did not take advantage of provisions that would have allowed him to treat Bayley as a serious sexual offender and forced him to serve more time.
Could it be that it’s because the victims were indeed sex workers? They rarely receive the same paltry portion of justice afforded to other women when it comes to sexual assault, as though their attacks are to be expected or some unfortunate workplace dispute. The judge in his sentencing remarks was sympathetic to their horrors, but it seems to me that, for whatever reason, the women received scant justice for Bayley’s violence. He escaped being treated as a serious sexual offender, despite the judge noting he was a danger to society.
After physically assaulting a man after his release, Bayley was found to be in breach of his parole for the St Kilda rapes. His lawyer actually argued he had no history of violence – because apparently the rape or attempted rape of eight women isn’t violent. Though found guilty and sentenced, he was released on appeal and commenced reoffending.
As Bayley said to one of the St Kilda victims, “see, look who’s got the power. See, I can do whatever I want.” And he did exactly that – he did whatever he wanted, thanks to a system that cannot effectively penalise or protect people from sexual assault.
\Women know that Australia’s legal system will not protect them, with 60% of sexual assault investigations marked as unresolved after 30 days or that only one in six rape cases even make it to court. This is largely why sexual assault is underreported. Our legal system does not provide appropriate and just protection for victims of sexual assault and can be just as traumatic as the actual attack.
I have sat in on trials where victims and witnesses are undermined and insulted in the name of defence. I have seen QC assistants visibly scoff and sneer every time a witness answers questions to unseat any confidence in seeking justice. I have seen officials sit with crying members of the public, urging them to hold off their tears because it could impact the jury. I have seen other victims grilled about their choice of dress, their alcohol intake, transportation or whatever choice the defence will want you to think reduces a rape victim’s credibility to be thought of as an actual victim. It is a system that depicts victims as complicit in any attack inflicted upon them.
And given sexual assault victims often know their attackers, it’s a system that treats consent as a confusing grey area open to manipulation from victims or grade assault along a sliding scale of severity based on employment status or choices the victim has made.
These so-called grey areas when it comes to rape are akin to bacteria, infecting every aspect of our culture and weakening what should be our immune system, legal protection.
It is this bacteria that creates people like Bayley. It is a culture that is supported by the legal system, even when it seeks to punish them. It is a culture where, even if they are found guilty and show no ability to reform or behave, rapists are let loose to continue their attacks.
Even Bayley told investigators “how many chances does a person need? They should never have let me out.”