Barbara McMahon

A judge in Australia was facing calls to step down today after she failed to jail a group of nine males who admitted gang-raping a 10-year-old girl in an Aboriginal community, saying the young victim “probably agreed” to have sex with them.

Instead of jailing the three adults, aged 17 to 26, one of whom was a repeat sex offender, and giving custodial sentences to the six juveniles aged 14 to 16, Queensland District Court judge Sarah Bradley handed out suspended sentences and probation orders.

The lenient sentencing was greeted with outrage and disbelief across Australia, which has been wrestling with the problem of child sex abuse in indigenous communities after a report, Little Children Are Sacred, released earlier this year, described the problem as widespread and endemic.

Aboriginal academic Professor Boni Robertson called for the judge to step down while there was an inquiry. “It’s undermined everything we have worked for over the last 10 years to get our women justice in this country,” she said.

The assault on the child happened in 2005 in Aurukun on Cape York on the northern edge of Queensland, a community which has a history of rioting and drunken violence. Some of the girl’s attackers are said to be from prominent families in the area while she comes from a less privileged background.

Queensland’s premier, Anna Bligh, said all sexual offences sentences arising out of Cape York communities over the past two years would be reviewed. “The nature of the sentences in this case are so far from community expectations I have to say I am alarmed, and I am not prepared to write this off as an unusual one-off case,” she said.

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