One of the strange turns in the history of ideas in the twentieth century and now the twenty-first has been first the identification of sexuality as a key element of personality and in particular the “discovery” of infantile sexuality under the influence of Sigmund Freud (though not only Freud) and secondly the increased awareness of long-term psychological trauma, including trauma which is caused by (adverse) experiences in childhood and adolescence.
Of course, when it comes to human behaviour, there is very little that is new under the sun, although the terms in which discussion of such behaviour are formulated are susceptible to reformulation. The notion that events early in life can have a powerful effect is hardly new to Freud, and perhaps Freud’s distinctive innovation was the medicalisation of matters which previously would have been considered to be either religious or moral, even assuming these categories could be considered distinctly. The notion of psychological trauma is itself a medicalisation of the idea of some deep-seated adverse effect.
By whatever route (and in beginning to attempt it, I realise my inadequacy to trace the causes) we have reached a point where one of the key anxieties of the age is the modern monster, the pedophile and his (rarely her) associated vices of child pornography. In my own sentient lifetime, the tide has turned in that respect. As recently as 1981, the Queensland sociologist/criminologist, Paul Wilson, published The Man They Called a Monster, about Clarrie Osborne, a court reporter who had sexual encounters with hundreds of teenage boys (and who taped and transcribed his conversations with them). Wilson, who interviewed Osborne (who committed suicide after he was arrested) and some of the boys, argued that Osborne’s monstrosity and the harmful effects of his actions on the boys were overstated, and even called for the abolishing of age-of-consent laws altogether.
It is unlikely that Wilson would publish such a book today.
Geoffrey Leonard did self-publish such a book. He lodged copies of it in various libraries, including the State Library of NSW and the National Library. He also published it and other books on the internet.
His problem is that, unlike Paul Wilson, he is a “monster.” In 1989 he pleaded guilty to a number of offences involving two brothers, aged 13 and 16, and served 2 or 3 years in Cooma Gaol as a result. One bee in his bonnet is that his offences were characterized as sexual assaults by reason of the legal incapacity of 13 and 16 year old boys to consent to sexual activity (that has now changed in the case of 16 year-olds) but he does not accept that what he did should be called an assault. He does not believe that there should be any age-based sexual consent laws.
Leonard first came to public attention as a result of a charge brought agaist him in 2004 of loitering at St Andrew’s Cathedral. He was acquitted of this charge by Magistrate Pat O’Shane in January 2005.
Leonard had been attending services at the cathedral. In 2001 he had sent a copy of one of his books, Sex and Gender 2001, unsolicited to a 16-year-old boy in the choir. The dean wrote to him stating that he was welcome to attend the services, but that he must “never have unsupervised contact with any of the … members of the choir” and that he should not send boys unsolicited material of any kind.
In 2004 there were further complaints that Leonard had been taking photographs of some boys with his mobile phone, that he had been “following” the choir and that he had spoken to one boy and shaken his hand. Leonard denies these matters. The cathedral authorities responded by requiring him to stop attending their services. At the end of the service when they had notified him of this, they called police and he was arrested for “loitering.” His acquittal was essentially on the ground that the time for him to leave the cathedral according to the tenor of the letter which had been given to him had not yet arisen, so that the charge (which is a pretty cumbersome one) was premature.
Following this acquittal, Leonard attracted the attention of A Current Affair. I have provided the link to one (possibly incomplete) story rather than embed the youtube site because it is too excruciating for me to want to have it here. If you can bear to watch it, you may well infer that A Current Affair‘s reporter hounded Leonard for some time in order to provoke a response which, suitably edited, convincingly depicted him as a classic “monster.” In rising to the bait, Leonard certainly did not serve himself well. A story in the Sydney Morning Herald followed (and I presume other press attention). Subsequently, notwithstanding the initial opinion of the police reported in that story that Leonard had done nothing illegal, the full majesty of the law descended upon him.
He is now facing a charge, on indictment in the District Court, that:
“Between 19 September 2005 and 7 March 2006 at Sydney in the State of New South Wales, Geoffrey William Leonard, used a carriage service, namely the Internet, to make available child abuse material.”
This was because (and here I am paraphrasing the summary of the facts in a judgment of the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal) he had a website on which he published material about himself and his involvement in what he called “man-boy love”. The website was used, inter alia, as a vehicle to promote his views that there should be changes to existing laws regarding sexual crimes against children. On the website he published a 124 page article entitled “Punished for Love”. Within this article there was an edited police fact sheet and edited police statements of two males and of their father, concerning the sexual acts committed on the two males (brothers then aged 13 years and 16 years) to which I have already referred. It is the edited police fact sheet and edited police witness statements which are alleged to constitute child abuse material, the subject of the charge.
You can find the relevant statutory provisions summarised in that judgment. The immediately relevant parts are that:
“(1) A person is guilty of an offence if:
(a) the person:
(iv) uses a carriage service to make material available; or
(v) uses a carriage service to publish or otherwise distribute material; and
(b) the material is child abuse material.”
A “carriage service” includes the internet.
“Child abuse material” is relevantly defined as:
“(b) material that describes a person who:
(i) is, or is implied to be, under 18 years of age; and
(ii) is, or is implied to be, a victim or torture, cruelty or physical abuse;
and does this in a way that reasonable persons would regard as being, in all the circumstances, offensive.”
Anyone with the slightest familiarity with police facts sheets and witness statements would be aware that there could be nothing in these materials themselves or the manner in which they described what happened which reasonable persons would regard as being offensive. For the offence to be made out, it would be necessary to find that the publication of those statements by Leonard in his book changed the way that those events were described so that the way that the events were described was now a way that reasonable persons would regard as being, in all the circumstances, offensive.
Even allowing for the potential sting in that phrase in all the circumstances, I find it very difficult to see how the publication by Leonard of the facts sheets and witness statements, however offensive people may consider that to be, could relevantly have changed the way that they describe the events in question.
Incidentally, it is an offence to publish such material in a way which identifies the victims, and given that Leonard does not appear to have been charged with that offence, you may assume that he edited the statements so as not to identity the boys or their father.
The Court of Criminal Appeal rejected an appeal by Leonard against the rejection in the District Court of various legal challenges by him to the charges. The decision, which was in effect to leave it all to the jury, is not so exceptional, but you have to wonder if the process should ever have got so far. I am very disappointed that the Commonwealth DPP should have, against the AFP’s own initial and (at least in my opinion) better judgment, brought the charges. I am even more disappointed that a magistrate should have considered that a jury, properly instructed, could convict him. In this area of the law, as with terrorism-related offences, magistrates seem all-too-inclined to follow the path of least resistance and decide that the hard questions are all ones which should be left to the jury.
Leonard is not an attractive character in the eyes of many and his views are, to say the least, unpopular. He is unrepentant, but that in itself is not a crime. It may be that there should be a law against sex offenders publishing writings incorporating evidence used in the proceedings against them, but at present there is no such law.
Leonard may have some defences. The Court of Criminal Appeal makes some reference to these in its judgment. Conversely, if Leonard has committed an offence, so too may have numerous others, including the gang from A Current Affair if they accessed his web pages. It is also an offence to “use a carriage service to access” such material.
Finally, it is pathetically necessary for me to add that I neither agree with Leonard’s views nor condone his conduct.
Leonard’s special leave application to the High Court was dismissed by Justices Gummow and Kiefel on 24 April 2008.
On 5 September 2008, following a trial in which he defended himself unrepresented, Mr Leonard was sentenced by Judge Berman SC to 6 months imprisonment on the offence of using the internet to publish child abuse material. This is to be served concurrently with a sentence of one year (9 months non-parole) for possession of 276 child pornography images found (deleted) on his computer when it was seized by the police, a charge to which he had pleaded guilty.