Rights don't equal wrongs

Garth McVicar.
Garth McVicar.

There are some rights people seem to have that I just wasn't aware of. The right to a job, the right to a pay rise, the right to a relationship; all of these baffle me because at first glance they appeared in my view a privilege.

It is the same with another right that has popped up on the radar recently, and that is the mysterious right of a criminal to be the victim. The other victim (you know, the real one) seems to have only the right to remain silent. You probably know what I'm talking about. This week Garth McVicar and his Sensible Sentencing Trust made headlines with calls for a public register of sex offenders. The headlines came on the back of Christopher David Williams being sentenced to 17 years of jail time on 12 charges; five of rape, four of unlawful sexual connection and three of indecent assault.

"My understanding is that this man has a long history of offending and that his latest victims could have been prevented if his previous history was known," said McVicar.

If only such a sentence was rare, and seldom passed the lips of us mortals.

Unfortunately, what McVicar said was anything but rare these days: whether it is violent offenders or sex offenders, all too often the signs or convictions have been piling up for years. Which is why it makes perfect sense to have a public register of sex or violent offenders.

According to McVicar, in 90 per cent of the cases he deals with revealing the perpetrator would not mean revealing the victim. In other words suppression laws aren't protecting victims; they are protecting criminals. Which brings us back the where we started.

I didn't know convicted criminals had the right to keep their offending private in a justice system that operates on a basis of transparency. I didn't know they had a right to privacy while neighbours, nearby school children or the community had no right to knowledge that could have kept their children safe. I didn't know that we were more concerned about the right to privacy of paedophiles than we were about the safety of our children.

I suppose what confused me was the idea that having rights was dependent on showing you could be responsible with them. In other words, if you want the right to a clean slate, don't commit a crime. If you want the right to roam free, stay out of jail. If you want the right to privacy, don't commit or encourage acts which make you a threat to children and the community. But, it seems I was wrong. These days you don't have to be responsible to get rights; they are conferred upon your shoulders regardless of whether you have earned them or not.

Indeed, I'm not sure whose eyesight needs correcting, but the longer I stare at some rights, the more difficult it is to see any substance in them.