VICTORIA’S Attorney-General Martin Pakula has slammed a Hamilton newspaper publisher’s column which defends child sex abusers, labelling it “outdated and insensitive”.
He is the latest in a long line of critics of the piece by Richard Beks which appeared in last Saturday’s Hamilton Spectator.
Mr Pakula spoke out yesterday after Beks went on radio to defend his weekly column, conceding it could have been worded better but refusing to offer an apology.
In the piece, Beks referred to the actions of a teacher convicted of sexually abusing a 15-year-old girl as “merely touching” and suggested it had the “hallmarks of misguided curiosity”.
He also labelled a suspended sentence handed to an elderly priest as “pointless” because he lives in a nursing home and uses a walking frame to get around and is therefore unlikely to re-offend.
Mr Pakula said the comments not only trivialised a very serious matter, they were also plainly wrong. “These types of crimes have caused enormous anguish for many victims and their families,” he said.
“Those who have the privilege of having their opinions published in newspapers should take great care to ensure that they don’t cause further hurt, by promoting attitudes that are completely outdated and insensitive.”
Police also weighed in to the debate, with Warrnambool sexual offences and child abuse unit commander Chris Asenjo saying Beks’ comments ran the risk of undermining work being done in the field.
“Many organisations do a lot of work to ensure that sexual assault is not trivialised or normalised,” Detective Sergeant Asenjo said.
A spokesman for the Broken Rites victim support group said it often takes years for victims of church-based sexual assault to exercise their right to speak with police and feared comments like this may make it even harder for those still struggling to find their voice.
After a flood of social media condemnation, Beks took to ABC radio to clarify his comments.
“With the benefit of hindsight, I would have been better not to use the word ‘merely’. With all the abuse I’m getting on social media that’s the one word that seems to be getting up everybody’s nose,” he told presenter Steve Martin.
“But the point I was making (was) there are a whole range of offences that are serious (and) a whole range of harm that’s perhaps not so serious. We have to carefully look at all of these to see if the penalties being handed out match the seriousness of the offence.”
Beks denied his comments could have caused more harm to the victims because his newspaper was not distributed in Queensland, where the offending occurred.
"I didn't put it on Twitter or Facebook. I did it in a published and printed paper. It was all the people who are after my guts at the moment, so if the harm goes to Queensland it's not my fault, it's whoever's done this to us," he said.
Mr Beks admitted he was feeling threatened by the backlash, saying his (email) inbox had been flooded with complaints since the column went viral because of "sick people" using social media.
"Most of those were absolute nutters who wanted to not take on the argument but make threats and call me every name under the sun," he said.
"That's the sort of stuff you'd expect on social media these days."