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venerdì 27 ottobre 2017

"Operation Fledermaus"

The girl was just 13 when she met 40-year-old Kym Dowding on the dusty streets of Roebourne, the sad town in the iron-rich Pilbara with one of the nation’s worst rates of child sexual abuse.
Dowding, the son of former West Australian premier Peter Dowding and a graduate of Perth’s exclusive Guildford Grammar, offered the child $50 and cigarettes if she would give him oral sex.
What followed, according to evidence in court this week, were several encounters in which Dowding, gripped by methamphetamine addiction and ­depressed over his role in a toddler’s death, committed many offences against the girl, all involving cash for sexual favours.
Dowding is the first in a long list of local men who will front the courts over the epidemic of abuse in Roebourne. By June, more than 30 men had been charged with about 300 offences as part of ­Operation Fledermaus, a West Australian Police mission to weed out pedophiles in the Pilbara. A staggering 184 alleged victims, most from Roebourne, had come forward to tell their stories.
Dowding’s sentencing on Monday — he pleaded guilty and will serve at least 19 months in prison — provides graphic insight into the horrors being uncovered. It is also proof of what state Child Protection Minister Sim­one McGurk described last month as the “normalised” abuse in Roebourne, where 80 per cent of the 1200 residents are Aboriginal.
The court was told on Monday that Dowding’s main victim, who was aged 13 and 14 at the time of the offences, had suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a number of offenders since she was three. By the time she met Dowding in 2015, she needed money to buy drugs.
Dowding’s lawyer Jim Suth­erland argued his client’s moral culpability was reduced by the fact the girl was “behaving in an adult sort of fashion”. “What I seek to do is to put in its context the fact that the complainant was a willing participant because of her background,” he said.
But judge Michael Gething ­rejected that argument. “I struggle with the proposition that Mr Dowding’s culpability is reduced because the victim had such a tragic upbringing,” he said.
At the time he committed the offences, Dowding’s life had been in a downward spiral for several years. Yet for an indigenous man from Roebourne, he appears to have been given a better chance in life than many others.
Dowding, the son of Roebourne indigenous woman Jill Churnside, never knew his Aboriginal biological father. He ­became the stepson of Peter Dowding when the Labor MP married Churnside in 1980, eight years ­before becoming premier.
Kym lived in Perth and completed Year 12 at Guildford Grammar before training as an electrician. His parents separated when Kym was 12, but Mr ­Dowding continued to treat Kym as his son. He later moved back to Roebourne to live with his mother, leading an apparently normal life and remaining employed. But in 2010, Dowding was thrust into the centre of an ­inquest into the death of a two-year-old Aboriginal boy, Cassius Norman.
Coroner Alastair Hope found Dowding was careless in not ­installing a ­residual current device in a government-owned house where Cassius was electrocuted. His electrical licence was suspended and the episode led to a bout of depression.
Dowding had long been a cannabis user but by 2014 he had an addiction to methamphetamine. The drug heightened his sex drive and he developed a “significant ­interest in adult pornography”, the judge was told. According to a report from a psychologist and a psychiatrist, Dowding had long struggled with emotional difficulties, including a “pervasive sense of sadness, pessimism, hopeless, apathy, low self-esteem and guilt”.
These issues were exacer­bated, according to his lawyer, by the disconnection he feels from his indigenous cultural heritage and the fact he’s “not comfortable in the ... non-­Aboriginal community”.
If there is any light in this dark tale, it is that Dowding had begun to turn his life around by the time police interviewed him last March. He had participated in drug rehabilitation, confessed fully to his crimes, expressed remorse, and had returned to the workforce. But that was not enough for Judge Gething not to impose an immediate prison term.
“Sexual offences involving children are of the utmost seriousness,” he told Dowding. “The purpose of the offence with which you’ve been sentenced is not only to protect children from sexual predators but to protect them from themselves.”

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