It is reported that in 1993, Father Ron Peters has allegedly indecently assaulted a fifteen-year-old boy at a Fairfield high school.
The investigation into the alleged indecent assaults by the 61-year-old commenced last year after Fairfield Police received the complaints.
The 61-year-old has been arrested, and later charged with 3 charges of aggravated indecent assault in addition to a count of aggravated indecency at the Lake Illawarra Police Station.
Father Peters is to appear before the Port Kembla Local Court on 15 May 2019, and according to reports has been suspended from the church.
He is currently at liberty on conditional bail.
While he remains suspended from the church, the Illawarra parents are understandably concerned about the insufficient information that has been provided to date. It is reported that a parent late last year noticed a note in a school newsletter stating that the priest was on leave “with no details”.
While he’s been removed from the Wollongong Catholic Diocese website, the site also states that he “continued his role as a Dean and is now the Administrator of the Lumen Christi Parishes, Wollongong”.
The Wollongong Diocese have reportedly stated that “this is a situation where the police have laid charges and will be bringing the matter before the courts. For all involved, this process needs to be given the total respect it deserves”.
Following the priest’s arrest on Monday 25 March this year, Illawarra Catholic schools have offered support and counselling to students and families.
Who is Father Peters?
It is reported that Father Peters was ordained by Bishop Peter Ingham in two thousand and five. For a short time, he served in the Nowra and Ruse parishes, and was a chaplain for the Berrima Womens Correctional Facility.
The priest was then appointed Dean and Administrator to the Wollongong Cathedral in two thousand and six.
The 61-year-old priest is a co-founder of the Illawarra People of Peace and is also the chair of the Diocesan Schools Council. It is reported that he also works in numerous Illawarra school communities.
What are the Penalties for Sexual Touching in NSW?
The new laws on sexual touching or aggravated sexual touching carry heavier penalties than the previous indecent assault laws.
Anyone guilty of touching a person in circumstances where a reasonable person would consider it to be sexual will face a penalty of up to 5-years imprisonment under section 61KC Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).
The court will look at the following kind of factors when determining whether a ‘reasonable person’ would consider it to be sexual:
- The part of body touched, or the part of body used to do the touching; or
- Whether the purpose of it was for sexual gratification or arousal (although this is not necessary for it to amount to sexual touching); or
- Other circumstances or aspect of the touching that gives it that sexual flavour.
The maximum penalty increases to 10-years imprisonment where the victim is aged between 10-16 years.
The maximum penalty increases further to 16-years imprisonment where the victim is aged under 10-years.
The maximum penalty for aggravated sexual touching is 7-years imprisonment and/or up to a $11,000 fine under section 61KD Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).
An intensive correction order (ICO) is the only available alternative to full-time jail, which is not available for a Judge or Magistrate to impose as a penalty for a sexual touching offence if the victim was under the age of 16-years pursuant to section 67 Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 (NSW).
A person will be guilty of sexual touching if the court is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that:
- The accused touched the alleged victim, or encouraged someone else to do it; and
- The touching would be considered ‘sexual’ by a ‘reasonable person’ and
- There was no consent by the alleged victim; and
- The accused had the knowledge at the time that there was no consent.
It is also possible to be guilty of this if an accused person incites the alleged victim to sexually touch the accused or someone else.
However, the court will find an accused person ‘not guilty’ to sexual touching if:
- The prosecution is unable to prove any one of the above-mentioned elements (1-4) beyond reasonable doubt in court.
- The accused touched the alleged victim by accident.
- The accused honestly believed on reasonable grounds that the alleged victim did consent.
- Where there is a reasonable possibility that the perpetrator was someone other than the accused person.
- The accused person’s alleged touching was involuntary.
What is Aggravated Sexual Touching?
As outlined earlier, anyone guilty of aggravated sexual touching in NSW will face heavier penalties of imprisonment.
Aggravated sexual touching is where you commit ‘sexual touching’ as outlined earlier, but where it is done in ‘circumstances of aggravation’, which includes:
- Where it was done in the company of another person at the time; or
- The offender was in a position of authority while the victim was under his/her authority at the time; or
- The victim has a serious physical disability or cognitive impairment at the time.
How Can the Police Prove Whether I Knew That the Victim Didn’t Consent to the Sexual Touching?
The prosecution may try to prove that you knew the victim wasn’t consenting at the time in any one of the following ways:
- By asking the court to make an inference ‘that you must have known’ given the established facts of the case; or
- Where you run the defence of an honest and reasonable believe: the prosecution may prove that you either didn’t hold an honest belief, or that it wasn’t held on reasonable grounds; or
- Where you realised the possibility that the victim did not consent but still did the touching, or you failed to even turn your mind to whether there was consent at the time in circumstances the absence of consent would have been obvious to anyone else.
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