SYDNEY - Officials conceded yesterday that Australia's welfare system failed a girl who was removed from a remote Aboriginal community after being sexually abused at age 7, then gang raped at age 10 when she was returned to live in the town.
The case has drawn outrage in Australia after it was revealed that nine males who pleaded guilty to the second rape were paroled or had their sentences suspended by a judge who said the victim had probably consented to having sex with them.
Officials in Queensland state said Monday they would launch appeal proceedings against District Court Judge Sarah Bradley's decision not to hand down custodial sentences in connection with the girl's rape in Aurukun township on Cape York in 2006.
Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh has also announced a review of all sexual assault cases on the cape - a remote, tropical region dotted by giant cattle farms and tiny Aboriginal outstations - in the past two years, amounting to about 75.
As anger surrounding the case roiled Australia, Bligh yesterday confirmed news reports that the girl was first sexually assaulted at Aurukun in 2002, by several juveniles who did not face court.
Bligh said the girl was taken from the community and put into foster care in the regional center of Cairns before being returned to Aurukun in April 2006, when shortly afterward she was raped by nine males from the community, six of them younger than 16, the legal age of consent, and the others ages 17, 18, and 26.
"The system clearly failed this little girl," Bligh told reporters in the state capital Brisbane.
One welfare officer responsible for sending the girl back to Aurukun has been fired and two others have been suspended, she said.
Bradley's office did not respond yesterday to requests for comment. The judge was quoted in The Australian newspaper on Monday as saying the penalties had been sought by the prosecution and were "appropriate."
Transcripts released by Queensland officials yesterday show that prosecutor Steve Carter told the court the girl could not legally have consulted to sex because of her age. But he said she had agreed to meet the offenders for the purpose of having sex, and for that reason he was not seeking prison sentences.