Child advocacy groups slam child sex sentence

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A man who traded pornographic images of his son in return for indecent photographs involving girls got off lightly in Oamaru District Court on Wednesday, child advocacy groups say.

Stop Demand Foundation say sex offenders’ sentences need to be much harder to reduce the demand that drives the sexual exploitation of women and children worldwide.

“The only way that we can make inroads is to come down really heavily on offenders,” Stop Demand Foundation founder Denise Ritchie said.

Appearing in the Oamaru District Court on Wednesday, the 27-year-old man, who has final name suppression, was sentenced to eight years and 10 months’ imprisonment, with a minimum non-parole period of five years.

Ms Ritchie said she was “baffled” and “furious” at the sentence handed down by Judge Joanna Maze.

“This man sexually violated his 13-month-old son, an offence that is heinous in the extreme, and which attracts up to 20 years’ imprisonment,” she said.

On the face of it, the man received a low sentence, she said. Stop Demand anticipated a sentence at least double the amount of time he got, given the gravity of the crimes, the age of the child and the relationship of father and infant.

“It seems that [sex offenders] get a lot of free passes,” she said.

The probability that the man would get parole in five years’ time was high, she said.

As the child reaches young adulthood, Ms Ritchie said he would likely become aware of the incident and his images might still remain online _ a discovery that is psychologically crippling for many such victims.

“Frankly, sexual crimes against children don’t get any worse than this … It could have a massive psychological impact on him,” she said.

Without seeing the sentencing report, she felt the “weak penalties” in no way reflected the gravity of the crimes.

The 27-year-old’s conviction is the second in relation to a high profile police operation that began in July last year, involving staff across the country including Northland, Auckland City, Eastern, Canterbury and Southern districts. The operation targeted alleged paedophiles in New Zealand and overseas.

The offending came to light when an international agency alerted police to a file sharing website where he was offering to trade images of offending against his son for indecent photographs involving girls.

Police uncovered 815 objectionable images and 84 moving objectionable images on the man’s computer.

Judge Maze said: “The Crown submits, and I accept, that there is an abuse of trust. This child was entitled to expect protection by you from harm and exploitation. You were the one person that he was entitled to expect to help him.” She posed the question: “How does a 13-month-old child protect himself?”

“He can’t. He can’t even form a complaint,” she said.

Judge Maze said the child was very vulnerable and the offending was done for exploitation so there was premeditation.

“You created a trading commodity so you could get pornographic material back,” she said.

“You deliberately filmed this child’s distress, in effect, and you offended so as to exploit the child in your care for trading purposes.”

The 27-year-old’s crimes have been described as some of the worst examples of child sex abuse in New Zealand by ECPAT Child ALERT.

Alan Bell, of ECPAT Child ALERT was outraged that this sort of behaviour occurs in New Zealand. “Not only did a father sexually abuse his baby son, he was willing to trade the subsequent images of this abuse to others so that he could gain access to images of young girls being sexually abused,” he said.

“As a society we all need to be alert to the actions of those who choose to take advantage of our children in return for their own depraved pleasure and for gain. Children are not commodities to be traded as sex objects. The Government is taking positive action in strengthening the legislation but more is needed in terms of education and public awareness.”

He said, sadly, this was yet another case that proved New Zealand was not exempt from “inhumane behaviour against our most vulnerable”.

Aaron John Ellmers, 41, was earlier this month sentenced to 20 years’ preventative detention at the High Court in Napier.

By Rebecca Ryan