Flat White

Cultural relativism sees justice denied

29 April 2017

9:22 AM

29 April 2017

9:22 AM

A teenager who migrated from Afghanistan recently plead guilty to a series of sexual assaults in Surfer’s Paradise committed in 2016.

The assaults come at a time when there is increasing emphasis on the problem of sexual assault as western countries strive towards ensuring that it is never tolerated and that appropriate punishments are meted out because of the heinous nature of the crime and its impact on victims.

What then are we to make of the judge presiding over the case who accepted, in mitigation, the argument that the teen had been driven by ‘cultural influences’ as he was not used to seeing women in bikinis where he is from?

What are we to make of the assailant receiving no prison time, conviction or sanction besides a 2 year probationary period as punishment? This not for an isolated instance or some alleged temporary ‘loss of control’ (which in and of itself would be no excuse), but the sexual assault of EIGHT women and girls.

More insulting is the implication which accepting such cultural relativism casts upon the 16,600 or so Afghan-born individuals residing in Australia. That their upbringing in a conservative, war-torn country where women are covered up somehow makes them predisposed to divorce themselves from their basic human decency – could there be any greater insult?


These are men, women and children who have fled for their lives from repressive, psychopathic regimes including the Taliban and the Russian Communists before them. They are an ethnically diverse community accounting for Pashtuns, Hazaras, Tajiks and other ethnic groups.

Many are hard-working individuals who operate businesses or provide valuable skills to our declining rural and regional economy. Nearly all of them abide by Australian laws. Now they face the embarrassment of media headlines all because a judge decided to draw a link between a criminal’s foreign upbringing and his criminality as an excuse for a softer sentence, or rather no sentence.

One wonders whether the argument would have been as persuasive were it a Russian immigrant who was not used to seeing scantily clad women as he had grown up in a cold city in Northern Siberia.

It is the kind of misplaced paternalism that calls to mind the case of Stanford rapist Brock Turner who triggered global outrage after receiving an appallingly lenient sentence for sexual assault – because the judge regarded him with sympathy since he had a ‘bright future’ ahead of him as a university athlete. The message sent by that case was simple – If you come from a certain privileged background, the rules apply differently to you.

The present matter has nothing to do with privilege, but it nonetheless downplays the paramount importance of an individual’s personal responsibility for their actions in favour of excusing their conduct because of their ‘cultural differences’. Even if they suffer from no detriment to the mental faculties preventing them from seeing right from wrong. The irony that these same ‘cultural differences’ are shared by so many non-rapists seems lost on the current state of our justice system.

A similar story played out in 2011 when a Libyan international student was convicted of a series of sexual assaults in Victoria. The judge in that case also accepted that ‘cultural issues’ had played a role in the perpetrator’s actions but elected to nonetheless sentence him to a 5 years and 3 months prison term as greater emphasis was placed on the need to strongly condemn the crime.

Immigrants are best placed to settle into the Australian community when they are treated by the same standard as everyone else, not paternalised or patronised. Refusing to accept cultural or moral relativism as an excuse for abhorrent conduct is the only way to truly ensure that our society upholds the principles and values that it holds dear. Principles and values which have attracted millions of migrants from all over the world, often from places where the justice system is not as effective at upholding the same values. These are migrants who never take for granted how fortunate they are to live in a country where the rule of law and not arbitrary relativism is par de course.

The standard we walk past is the one we accept and cultural relativism is no excuse for walking past serial sexual assault.

Satyajeet Marar is a Sydney-based writer and Research Associate for the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. He can be followed on Facebook.

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