Footy sex scandal exposes child protection failure

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Girl at the centre of the Ricky Nixon sex scandalI spent the weekend before International Women's Day in the company of women who had started high school when I did, 50 years ago, in a nice, safe, Presbyterian school.

We had all done well, considering the naughty, dangerous and defiant activities we engaged in back then. We are not only lawyers, investors and singers of reknown but practised liars, Great Escapees, drinkers, sneakers-out- to-be-with-boys-and-sailors, and hoons who had gotten away with it.

We could laugh, now, about how the authorities had been fooled. This gave me cause for thought.

We have witnessed great heartache over the crude behaviour of some footballers, their representatives and supporters, brought to attention by an (until recently) unidentified 17-year-old girl whose motive is revenge for her own humiliation and pain over similar exploits with players.

The details don't matter, but her rights as a child and as a woman certainly do. The girl's identity is notionally protected because she's a 'child'. Yet in her own eyes she's a woman scorned, who is championing all women's rights to be treated with respect by exposing footballers' misogyny.

She seems to be estranged from her parents one minute, and staying with them the next; put up temporarily in hotels by newspapers and motels by 'friends'; regretful of past lies and attacks at one moment, pitiably defiant the next.

Any mother, any sister, must be, as I am, frightened for her wellbeing. We know where this leads.

When I started legal practice, Australian child protection laws enabled police, child protection workers and parents to approach a children's court to have a girl made a ward of state, and deprived of her freedom, if she appeared to be 'in moral danger'.

These laws were meant to protect society from the damage young girls were thought to do when they are sexually active. They were presented as protection of the innocent child from the ill-effects of being sexually exploited, but we have always blamed the victims of such exploitation. And the 'moral danger' provisions were always used to protect girls, not boys.

And they never did much good, because there was nowhere for them to go. These girls would end up in institutional care, 'for their own good', together with offenders, victims of neglect or abandonment, or the mentally ill or intellectually or physically handicapped.

Sometimes I would get a call from one of these girls asking for help, usually with a story about running away from abusive homes or to avoid the 'moral harm' caused by male relatives.

Thus, in my youth I was an active campaigner for law reform. Not only was such a law sexist, but it failed to take into account the growing competence and assurance of a girl who was becoming a woman and dealing with her relationships in an honest and accepting way.

Over the years since, the laws have changed. It is no longer a lock-upable offence for a child over the 'age of consent' to engage willingly in sexual relationships so long as their partner does not have an unequal share of power and control of resources needed by the other — a teacher, tutor or other person with responsibility and authority over them — and isn't too much older than them.

Thus speaketh the law, though the moral implications remain the same: What is the harm done by a child who is sexually active before she is socially or emotionally mature to handle the consequences? Does the woman have rights that should take priority over the rights of a child to self-expression and to learn from mistakes? Some mistakes have permanent consequences.

We have laws that enable, but don't require, child protection agencies to take responsibility for children who may be endangered by these choices, but they do not act when the children concerned are 16 or so. What do we do for these very vulnerable young people?

We know the adolescent brain is insufficiently developed for its owner to anticipate consequences of their own conduct. That's why adolescents make fabulous soldiers, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child protects adolescents against exploitation as seriously as the rights of toddlers to be fed, clothed and housed.

I've never met a woman who did not look back with regret at the harmful memories of her earliest sexual experiences, if she was very young.

And yet the old rules about respectful treatment in sexual relationships have changed, and nothing has taken their place.

Thus, the boys in the footy club were apparently concerned that 'the 17-year-old' (then 16) was 'legal' when she sought out their company. Their club managers were embarrassed by the rude photos she later released but claimed they were so concerned for the welfare of 'the 17-year-old' that they would provide somewhere for her to live for 'months', which they don't seem to have done.

And most recently, player agent Ricky Nixon popped out of the country just before even more embarrassing photos of him in 'the 17-year-old's' hotel bedroom came out. He, too, was only trying to help her. With a bottle of wine. In his underpants.

Everyone's concerned, yet nobody can do anything to break this horrible cycle of scandal, in the middle of which stands a child who has been treated like a woman, and badly.

I wonder how she feels when she watches the news and sees her face in public shadow, her identity a phrase, a reference, a judgment, instead of the person she is.

She needs someone to set her some boundaries and enforce them. She needs someone who loves and cares about her without a stir in his loins. She needs cameras and crews to ignore what she says. She needs some quiet time and reflection. For God's sake. And hers.


Moira RaynerMoira Rayner is a barrister and writer. She is a former Equal Opportunity and HREOC Commissioner. She is principal of Moira Rayner and Associates.

Topic tags: International Women's Day, Ricky Nixon, St Kilda Football Club, 17-year-old, dickileaks, nick riewoldt

 

 

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Moira Rayer again speaks such sense. She was an active campaigner for law reform and was instrumental in having the laws protecting children changed. Yet the law still seems unable to protect young children from clergy sexual abuse and church cover up.

The damage to the victims is palpable in Chrissie Foster’s Hell to Heaven.

Can the law be changed to:
1. Get a full and open Government inquiry into all the facts of abuse by clergy in the Melbourne archdiocese and three Victorian dioceses as in the Irish Fern and National inquiries
2. Get church to agree to police requests to change the Pell Process
3. Open all archdiocese files to the police
4. Remove the $75,000 cap on your ex-gratia payments to victims
5. Have all past ex-gratia payments reviewed without any limit.
6. Stop hiding the church from legal processes
7. Offer a litigation model to accept civil claims.
8. Remove from the clergy any priest who has sexually assaulted children.
9. Introduce procedures to protect children against clergy sexual abuse.
10. Hold accountable bishops who have knowingly moved accused desperate predator priests from parish to parish

Mike Parer | 08 March 2011


A similar case that has been described to me is of a fifteen year old girl who climbed out of a window at night in order to see her boyfriend. The father asked the police to return her to her family and was told that it was not possible, and if he went to where she was and attempted to return her to her loving family they would charge him. The now young woman is in her fifth pregnancy to the same man who routinely bashes her until she seeks help from relatives and then later returns to him. It speaks for itself that the law must protect children from themselves.
Grahame Forrest | 08 March 2011


Hang on a minute! Don't those footballers have rights too? She is not the only victim in this whole mess.

And inevitably, there is a response which has little to do with the article but allows its writer to get on his soap box about clerical sexual abuse.

Boys of 16 can be physically strong enough to do great damage; girls of the same age are developed enough to persuade an adult that they are older. Perhaps the greatest need is to change the definition of "child."

If the following is just an urban myth,I apologise. A boy of 17 and a girl of 17 have consensual sex; he can be charged with sexual assault or something similar, but she cannot.

Frank | 08 March 2011


Hang on a minute! Don't those footballers have rights too? She is not the only victim in this whole mess. And inevitably, there is a response which has little to do with the article but allows its writer to get on his soap box about clerical sexual abuse. Boys of 16 can be physically strong enough to do great damage; girls of the same age are developed enough to persuade an adult that they are older. Perhaps the greatest need is to change the definition of "child." If the following is just an urban myth, I apologise. A boy of 17 and a girl of 17 have consensual sex; he can be charged with sexual assault or something similar, but she cannot.
Frank | 08 March 2011


Indeed, Moira, the girl's right as a child and a woman matters. As you said, our sexist laws do not protect her. Since Federation, I believe, only three women have made it to the High Court. And only recently have a few more women made it to positions of influence in political Parties. Then there is the spectacle of our bookshelves filled with the names of authors who are male. Thus we still read, predominantly, what the male in society presents us with. Yet in the beginning there were Adam AND Eve.
Joyce | 08 March 2011


Thank you, Moira for a very relevant article on International Women's Day. While recognizing that the men involved have rights, the youth and inexperience of this girl suggest that she needs much greater guidance than she seems to have received so far. Your article expressed many of the ideas that I have heard voiced by other women over the last few weeks and I'm talking about women who cared about her.
Maryrose Dennehy | 08 March 2011


I agree wholeheartedly with your article Moira, but most particularly your last paragraph! If she hadn't got all the press attention in the first place I'm sure the whole issue wouldn't have gone this far.
Rae Martens | 08 March 2011


thank you Moira for being a voice in the wilderness. What a mess, a lot of hurt and a lot of distress. There must be another way.
Bernie | 08 March 2011


Oh please. Stop talking about it.

patrick | 08 March 2011


And where are the parents in all this? Self respect starts in babyhood. How do we approach that - a licence to breed?
hilary | 09 March 2011


Moira says it all with the last paragraph. Someone to set boundaries. Someone to care. It is not all about the laws. It is about having a society where we all take responsibility for the way young people are brought up and cared for.

We have a situation where grandparents are bringing up 5 girls (3 to 15) because the parents have rendered themselves unable to do so. You guessed it. The 15 year old is causing a great deal of grief. The law can establish set rules but it is the family, friends and community where this young girl lives that will determine her future.
Jorie | 11 March 2011


I agree Moira thank you for this.
Diana White | 01 April 2011


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