More than 55,000 Aussies have joined the fight to end a brutal court process that leaves survivors of child sexual abuse “broken and traumatised”.
Last month, news.com.au launched its exclusive Justice Shouldn’t Hurt campaign, calling for the NSW Government to change how children are treated during trials involving sexual offence matters.
The campaign was launched by highlighting the harrowing experiences of Albury sisters Pippa and Rose Milthorpe, who were sexually abused as children, only to be further scarred by their courtroom experiences.
In 2013, Pippa and her younger sister Rose both reported to police that they were being sexually abused by a family friend. They were aged eight and five respectively. Charges were laid in relation to both sisters and another two unrelated children.
Now 14, Rose has fought hard to tell her story. Picture: NewsWire/Monique HarmerPippa, now 17, is speaking out to help others. Picture: NewsWire/Monique Harmer
However, the case took more than two years to proceed to court, and when it did, funding ran out for the girls’ support person to be present. Instead the sisters faced days of traumatising cross examination without their parents allowed in the room, before a juror fell asleep forcing the need for a new jury to be empanelled.
Eventually the accused paedophile was convicted of six counts of aggravated indecent assault against Pippa Milthorpe. He was acquitted of four charges of aggravated indecent assault in relation to Rose Milthorpe
Both sisters say that despite the partial conviction, the court process left them “broken and traumatised” to this day – and they are now demanding that a groundbreaking Child Sexual Offence Evidence pilot scheme – which is currently only available in Newcastle and the Downing Centre Sydney – be expanded and made permanent to protect other young survivors.
The pilot introduced a range of measures to reduce the stress and difficulties placed on child victims and child witnesses without unfairly damaging the right to a fair trial for the defendant.
Some of those crucial measures include an expansion of the use of prerecorded evidence given by child victims, the use of witness intermediaries called ‘Children’s Champions’ and procedures to allow for appointment of District Court judges trained in management of child sexual assault matters.
A Change.org petition approved by Albury MP Justin Clancy pushing for the change has already attracted more than 55,000 signatures, with people across the nation throwing their support behind the important campaign.
In 2013, Pippa and her younger sister Rose both reported to police that they were being sexually abused by a family friend. They were aged eight and five respectively.
“It’s disgraceful we have reached the point as a nation where we even need to petition for this to get over the line,” one signee wrote, while another said: “This story is incomprehensible that these girls have been through so much and still they need to generate a petition to get action from our parliamentarians and the legal system.”
“Children need a voice and need to be protected and encouraged to give evidence against these vile people who hurt them,” another wrote.
Mr Clancy told news.com.au the teenage sisters’ stories proved just how critical the reform was.
“In my meetings with (the Milthorpe family) I can see the hurt and my heart goes out to them,” he said.
“Much of this pain has come from elements of our legal system and how it handles the taking of evidence from children. And, let me be clear, vulnerable children who have suffered much already in their lives.
“Together with the family we have looked at what can be done. The NSW pilot program running in Newcastle and the Downing Centre, Sydney introduces measures to reduce the stress and difficulties placed on child victims and child witnesses without unfairly damaging the right to a fair trial for the defendant.
“I believe it is time that this program became more widely available and I have spoken to this in parliament in September.”
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Mr Clancy urged Australians to sign the petition.
“I urge you all to put your support behind this quest for a fairer, more compassionate, more fitting legal process for children,” he said.