Last week, Justice Minister Michael Keenan claimed the amnesty would take illegal guns off Australian streets. He went on to link the amnesty with terrorism, citing the Lindt Cafe siege and the murder of Curtis Cheng as examples.
In a time when the spectre of terrorism is increasingly used as both a shield to prevent scrutiny of policies and a sword to attack anybody who criticises government decisions, we would do well not to accept at face value Keenan’s claims. So, are gun amnesties an effective way of tackling serious criminal activity?
What is an ‘illegal gun’?
To legally own a firearm in Australia, you must have a licence.
Since 1996, all firearms must be registered. Unregistered firearms are illegal.
Anyone who possesses a firearm without holding a licence, or without the appropriate category of licence for that firearm, is in illegal possession.
“Illegal guns” occur in many different situations. These range from licence holders who may have registered some – but not all – of their firearms after that requirement was introduced, to people whose licence has expired but who still have registered guns, to people who would never be able to obtain a firearm licence but nevertheless possess prohibited firearms.
How will the amnesty work?
Each state and territory is responsible for its own amnesty. It is likely they will look similar to the many amnesties that have run around Australia on a periodic – and sometimes permanent – basis in the last 20 years.
There has been no modelling of how many firearms are likely to be handed in, and the numbers collected under past amnesties vary greatly. Unlike 1996, there will be no government-funded compensation scheme.
Although guesstimates abound, there is no way of knowing how many illegally owned firearms exist. There are no accurate records of how many firearms were in Australia before gun laws changed in 1996.
Even though there are figures for the number of guns handed in under previous amnesties, we cannot say what that translates to as a percentage of the total pool of illegal firearms.
Do amnesties reduce gun crime?
Despite talking up the amnesty, Keenan also said it is:
… probably not going to be the case [that] we would have hardened criminals who have made a big effort to get a hand on illegal guns [who] would necessarily be handing them in.
This explains why gun amnesties are not a particularly effective response to firearm crime. Australian and international evidence suggests the people who respond to amnesties are characteristically “low risk”: they are not the ones likely to be involved in violence.
It may sound clichéd to say that “high risk” people do not hand in their guns, but it also appears to be correct.
What about organised crime and terrorism?
Illegal firearms are found in a range of criminal activities, including organised crime and incidents described as “terrorism”.
The argument runs that by reducing the number of guns, amnesties will reduce the number that are stolen and curtail the ability of high-risk individuals – “hardened” criminals or otherwise – to get their hands on black market guns.
However, available evidence does not support arguments about theft as a key source of crime gun supply. Although little data is publicly released about crime gun sources, what we know suggests theft accounts for less than 10% of guns traced in relation to criminal activity.
Problematically, many guns come from “unknown” sources. For example, there was no record of the sawn-off shotgun used in the Lindt Cafe siege ever legally entering the country, and it seems the revolver used to murder Curtis Cheng has equally vague origins.
We also know from international studies that criminals are resourceful and highly adaptable. When one source of firearm supply closes off, they typically have networks enabling them to switch to alternative sources.
This is part of the reason why tackling criminal possession of firearms is so challenging. And when we think about the drivers of demand for illegal guns as well as supply, responding becomes even more difficult.
This is why it is disappointing that Australian thinking follows such predictable, well-trodden paths. It seems politicians and bureaucrats tasked with developing firearm policies have little interest in new, innovative, and evidence-based responses to complex problems, and would rather just do more of what they have been doing for decades.
By all means run amnesties. There is no harm in them. They provide a great means for people who want to obey the law to get rid of guns that are unwanted or that they may not legally possess.
But let’s be realistic about what amnesties are, and are not, likely to deliver.
“Revenge porn” – the sharing of nude or sexual images without consent – has been widely understood as the spiteful actions of a jilted ex-lover. As the term has gained popularity, however, so too have understandings grown about the use of nude or sexual images as a tool of abuse and control by perpetrators of domestic violence.
But according to our new research, image-based abuse affects many Australians from across diverse communities and in different types of relationships. The picture is more complex than has previously been identified.
Our recent survey of 4,274 Australians aged 16 to 45 found that 23% reported having been a victim of image-based abuse.
Most common were sexual or nude images being taken of them without their consent. 20% of those surveyed reported these experiences.
Also common was sexual or nude images being sent onto others or distributed without consent. 11% of those surveyed reported these experiences.
Finally, 9% of survey respondents had experienced threats that a sexual or nude image would be sent onto others or distributed without their consent.
Some groups in Australia were more likely than others to report having been a victim. One in two Indigenous Australians, one in two Australians with a disability, and one in three lesbian, gay and bisexual Australians reported having suffered image-based abuse victimisation.
Also, 30.9% of those aged 16 to 19, and 27% of those aged 20 to 29, reported having been a victim.
Impacts of image-based abuse
Our survey found victims were almost twice as likely as non-victims to report experiencing high levels of psychological distress.
These impacts were highest for those who had experienced threats to distribute an image. 80% of these people reported high levels of psychological distress, consistent with a diagnosis of moderate to severe depression and/or anxiety disorder. This is a very important finding: it demonstrates the severity of the harm associated with image-based abuse victimisation.
Many victims also reported they were “very” or “extremely” fearful for their safety as a result.
Feeling afraid for your safety is an important indicator of potential stalking and/or domestic violence perpetration. Many legal definitions of stalking and abuse, such as for the purposes of an intervention or protection order, require victims to fear for their safety.
Yet there were also important differences in fear experienced by women compared to men.
Overall, our survey found both men and women were equally likely to report being a victim of image-based abuse. This shows such abuse is not exclusively a form of gender-based violence.
However, there do appear to be some very important differences in the nature and impacts of such abuse according to gender.
For example, the majority (54%) of victims reported the perpetrator was male. 33% of perpetrators were female. 13% were either unknown or a mixed group of both male and female perpetrators.
Both men and women experienced the majority of abuse from known persons such as an acquaintance, friend, or family member. Women (39%) were more likely than men (30%) to be victimised by an intimate partner or ex-partner.
These gendered patterns are similar to other forms of violence and abuse, where both men and women are most likely to experience abuse from male perpetrators, and where women are more likely than men to experience abuse from an intimate partner or ex-partner.
Women victims were also more likely than men to report feeling afraid for their safety.
For example, for images taken without consent, 32% of women victims reported fear for their safety, as compared to 23% of men. For images distributed without consent, 40% of women and 36% of men said they felt afraid. For images threatened, 50% of women and 42% of men reported they felt fearful for their safety.
Our survey has a key limitation: victims can only self-report their victimisation if they have become aware that a sexual or nude image of them was either taken or distributed without their consent. One only has to scratch the surface of content shared online to see there are many more sites and platforms dedicated to sharing women’s nude or sexual images without their consent than men’s.
Identifying these sites and the ways in which they operate is an important avenue for future research. It may shed further light on the gendered nature of image-based abuse.
Where to from here?
Tackling the harms of image-based abuse will require a combination of efforts.
Working alongside social media and website providers to better detect and remove material is vital to improving responses. Improving legal protections and providing information and support services for victims are also key priorities for reform. Information and support will need to cater to the different experiences of the diverse Australian community.
But whether nude or sexual images are being taken or shared by an intimate partner or ex-partner, a friend, family member or stranger, consent is crucial. That is what lies at the heart of this problem. It will take a long-term prevention plan to promote a culture of consent and respect in the digital age.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.
Anastasia Powell, Senior Research and ARC DECRA Fellow, Justice and Legal Studies, RMIT University; Asher Flynn, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Monash University, and Nicola Henry, Associate Professor & Vice-Chancellor’s Principal Research Fellow, RMIT University
Cardinal George Pell returned this week to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in relation to the Ballarat and Melbourne case studies.
Giving evidence over the course of four days, via video link from Rome, Pell modified slightly his previous public positions. But, fundamentally, he insisted that he knew little, and fulfilled his duties in relation to what he did know.
On several occasions, counsel assisting the royal commission suggested that Pell’s claims to be ignorant of child sex offending in various contexts was implausible. If everyone around Pell knew, how could he not have known?
The forms of denial
One of the most important lessons we have learnt from Pell’s appearance is the church was – and still is – in a state of denial. It is in denial about the harms of sexual abuse, and about the adequacy of its responses to allegations of abuse.
Being in denial is a curious thing. In denying something, you implicitly admit that there is something to deny.
The late sociologist Stanley Cohen examined this phenomenon in his last book. Cohen argued that we have myriad techniques of keeping disturbing knowledge at bay: there are many ways of not knowing.
The simplest is literal denial. We saw plenty of this from Pell. He repeatedly said that he never knew of allegations of abuse; that he never heard rumours of Gerald Ridsdale’s offending when they shared a presbytery in Ballarat.
Even less plausibly, Pell claimed that advisors and colleagues deliberately kept information from him. As journalist David Marr wrote, Pell was apparently:
… hoodwinked decades ago by an archbishop, a bishop, his colleagues and even the Catholic Education Office.
A more nuanced way of avoiding knowledge is interpretive denial. This involves keeping knowledge at a distance by accepting a fact but giving it a different interpretation.
So, when questioned about his time as a consultor in Ballarat, Pell insisted that paedophilia was never mentioned in discussions of why priests were being moved unexpectedly between parishes. Many of his fellow consultors knew that child sex offences had been committed, and “homosexuality” may have been mentioned as the reason for the priest’s removal.
But Pell, incuriously, chose not to see the possibility that the homosexual conduct may have been intergenerational. He asked no questions, and admitted:
It was a sad story and of not much interest to me.
The most disturbing form of denial on display in Pell’s four days of testimony, however, is implicatory denial: a refusal to see the legal and moral implications that follow from information.
Pell went to great lengths to explain that, in almost all cases, he did everything that was appropriate to his role at the time. He was repeatedly challenged by counsel assisting and the commissioner, Peter McClellan, that a priest might have a moral responsibility that exceeds the literal duties assigned to their role. But Pell rejected this proposition:
He has a moral responsibility to do … what is appropriate to his position.
Pell claimed that in his positions as priest, consultor and auxilliary bishop, he did all that was appropriate to his position. He simply reported any allegations that he thought were plausible to his superiors. That they neglected their duties was not his responsibility.
What chance of change?
Pell may be right that that the lion’s share of blame for the gross miscarriages of justice being examined by the royal commission should be laid at the feet of his dead and dying former superiors. But what is also emerging is graphic evidence of the dysfunctionality of Catholic governance on this issue.
As my research has shown, Roman Catholic canon law – ironically – has the oldest and most clearly articulated legal provisions for the prosecution of sexual offences against children. Yet the enactment of these provisions is entirely in the diocesan bishop’s hands.
A diocesan bishop has a fundamental conflict of interest in the discipline of clergy in their diocese. He is simultaneously responsible for the pastoral care of the priest and for their punishment. This contravenes a basic principle of natural law – that no-one should be a judge in their own case.
If church authorities had believed the children’s allegations, investigated them and kept records of those investigations, it is possible that offending priests could have been removed and disciplined. Instead, allegations were regarded as implausible, offending priests’ denials were believed, and records were destroyed.
And where allegations were too stark to be denied, the gravity of the offending was denied, and priests were sent for “counselling” and relocated.
It is evident that Archbishop Frank Little and Bishop Ronald Mulkearns neglected their responsibilities and even contravened canon law in their dealings with sexually offending clergy. But Pell’s claims to have fulfilled his moral responsibility in the face of this dysfunction ring hollow.
Pell chose to keep knowledge of his fellow priests’ offending at bay and allowed his superiors’ neglect and malpractice to continue. After the exposure of this legal dysfunction and moral cowardice, we can expect the royal commission’s recommendations will include changes to Roman Catholic governance and canon law.
The link below is to an article reporting on the gang-rape of two toddlers in separate incidents in India. India has a major problem in the treatment of females and serious action needs to be taken.