An Australian prosecutor who described nine males who gang-raped a 10-year-old Aboriginal girl as "naughty" was suspended from duty as outrage grew yesterday over the fact they were not jailed.
Court transcripts showed prosecutor Steve Carter described the rape, that took place last year, as "childish experimentation" and consensual "in a general sense."
District Court judge Sarah Bradley did not record convictions against six teenage attackers aged under 17 and gave suspended sentences to three others aged 17, 18 and 26.
The girl had "probably agreed" to have sex with them, Bradley said.
The case has triggered a storm of protest, with child advocate groups and politicians, including newly elected Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, joining in a chorus of condemnation, saying the law was failing to protect children.
The Queensland state government is appealing the sentences, and has ordered a review of some 75 sexual assault cases on the remote northeastern Cape York peninsular, where the gang rape occurred, over the past two years.
Carter, the senior legal officer responsible for Cape York, has been stood aside by the state's director of public prosecutions pending an inquiry, state attorney-general Kerry Shine said late on Tuesday.
Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh said she was appalled at the sentence, and vowed "very radical action" if it was part of a systemic failure.
The girl, who cannot be named, had been abused previously at the age of seven and put into foster care in the town of Cairns.
In April last year she was returned to the Aurukun community, where she suffered the gang-rape.
Carter told the court the sex had been pre-arranged and that the males had not forced themselves on the girl, according to the transcript.
"They're very naughty for doing what they're doing but it's really, in this case, it was a form of childish experimentation, rather than one child being prevailed upon by another," he said.
Carter said such incidents were not out of character in remote communities.
"Children, females, have got to be -- deserve -- the same protection under the law in an Aboriginal or an indigenous community as they do in any other community," he said. "But sometimes things happen in a small community when children get together.
Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said yesterday the system had let the girl down.
"The child protection system certainly let this little girl down and we all now need to work as hard as possible to make sure it doesn't happen again," she told national radio.
The girl, now 12, is believed to be in foster care again away from Aurukun, the Australian newspaper reported.
The paper, which described the white judge as well known in Aboriginal communities for her efforts to keep people out of jail, said in an editorial the case reflected problems dogging Australia's handling of indigenous issues.
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