Sex with Children 'a Foolish Lapse': What's the Story?

Australian Feminist Law Journal, Vol. 28, 2008

24 Pages Posted: 10 Aug 2012

See all articles by Wendy Larcombe

Wendy Larcombe

University of Melbourne - Law School

Date Written: August 8, 2012

Abstract

How did a County Court judge sentencing an offender for sexual penetration with a child under 16 come to describe the offending as ‘a foolish lapse’? Does it mean that the courts do not take sex offences seriously or that judges are out of step with community attitudes? No. This article traces the history of the use of ‘foolish lapse’ in Victorian sentencing decisions and the consequent obligation on the judge in question to consider whether the offending in this instance constituted such a ‘lapse’. More broadly, the paper analyses the disjunction between the legal and popular meanings of ‘foolish lapse’ and the anxiety that that disjunction has created in media coverage of the case. It cautions that judges need to consider the increasing role of public opinion in sentencing policy and the potential effects of their choice of words in sentencing.

Keywords: sentencing, sex offences, discourse analysis

JEL Classification: K00, K19

Suggested Citation

Larcombe, Wendy, Sex with Children 'a Foolish Lapse': What's the Story? (August 8, 2012). Australian Feminist Law Journal, Vol. 28, 2008. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2126908

Wendy Larcombe (Contact Author)

University of Melbourne - Law School ( email )

University Square
185 Pelham Street, Carlton
Victoria, Victoria 3010
Australia

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