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Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott and Australian Attorneys-General: We must have stronger sentencing for rape

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Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott,

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis, 

I write to you in response to the appalling information that Sharon Siermans’ convicted killer Jason Dinsley was out on parole for rape. This follows media reports that Adrian Bayley had prior rape offences before he raped and killed Jill Meagher last year. 

According to media reports Dinsley had over 100 prior convictions. At the age of just 22, he raped, imprisoned and tried to strangle a 52-year-old woman. He was convicted to a minimum of six-and-a-half years in jail, with a maximum of nine. The prosecution at the time appealed against the sentence, arguing it was manifestly inadequate. That appeal was lost. He killed Sharon Siermans in front of her 4 year old boy after she had broken up with him.

And Bayley's criminal history consisted of a lifetime of atrocities against women. Previous to Jill Meagher, these include sex crimes such as the rape of a teenage backpacker and the imprisonment of women in his car while he repeatedly raped them.  Bayley served only 8 years for repeated rapes of women, and was out on parole when he murdered Jill Meagher.

These, I wager, are just the crimes we know about since rape is under-reported. According to the Crime Victimisation Survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics from 2009-2010, only 36.6% of most recent incidents of sexual assault were reported to police.

It’s time that something was done.  I am calling on you to both commit, if you become the Federal Attorney General after the election, to call a meeting of all Attorneys General from every state to discuss strengthening rape laws. While the laws are determined state by state - this issue, and the solution needs to be national.  I am asking for your leadership on this.

Given that rape is a horrendous act that erodes the very sense of safety, dignity, selfhood and freedom that we all need to operate as whole human beings, you would think our judicial system would come out swinging. You would think that it would recognise the deep loss, the scars and the ghosts that haunt survivors of rape. You would think it would see the lifetime of damage, the screaming nightmares, the injuries to intimacy and self esteem and work and family.

As a teacher and as a woman who wishes to have children, I demand a future with stronger sentencing for rape. The girls in my care deserve a society that is safer for them. But first, I demand a society from you and the judicial system that is safer for me.

Last year while walking in the early evening, I was violently assaulted by an unknown man on Sydney's streets. Though I now live to write this to you, it may not have ended that way. As I read the details of Jill Meagher's case I am beset by a deep despair that burrows in and doesn't go away. I am sure countless other women who have been assaulted, raped, or violently attacked by men feel the same prickling on the back of their neck.

There are too many of us. We have a right to safety and it is your responsibility to engineer sentencing that reflects that right. When we have sentencing that allows men like Dinsley and Bayley to walk free, we have sentencing that is broken.

I require you to fix what is broken – for myself, for the women in my life and the girls I teach every day.

Sarah Langston.

Co-signed by Jo MacDonald, Imanadari Counselling.

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