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Archive Story
                
Life Sentence: Transcript
September 2, 2001
 
INTRODUCTION:

LIZ HAYES: We're about to hear from two very brave young women, the victims of that terrible act of brutality by a gang of Lebanese youths. From a suburban street they were abducted at knifepoint and then cruelly and viciously abused. But if that ordeal wasn't enough, they now feel betrayed by our judicial system that did a deal with their attackers. It's known as a plea bargain: lighter sentences in return for pleading guilty. Last week, three of the youths received sentences ranging from 18 months to six years. One could be out as soon as next week. For the two women, that's no justice at all. They feel they're the ones who've been given a life sentence.

STORY:

LIZ HAYES: It's almost a year to the day since their lives were shattered by an unspeakable crime. Violated, humiliated, abused. These two young girls, still only 17, have been forever scarred.

JANE: To this day I've put everything in the back of my mind. I haven't talked about it to many people

LIZ HAYES: Why not? Too painful?

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JANE: Too painful.

SUE: You can't describe the pain. It was the most horrifying thing I think both of us have ever, ever gone through. Somebody on the outside just couldn't understand.

LIZ HAYES: When three of their attackers were jailed last week, the girls, who we will call "Jane" and "Sue", hoped to close this tragic chapter of their lives. But instead they feel betrayed, denied hope by a system that had promised justice.

SUE: I did expect the sentencing to give me some sort of closure so I could start getting on with my life. But it's been the exact opposite. It's just made things worse because it's like, now my story has been changed by the legal system.

LIZ HAYES: The facts were changed?

SUE: The facts were changed and I want to stop that. My story should be told the way it happened.

LIZ HAYES: Their nightmare began here at Sydney's Beverly Hills railway station. As Jane and Sue were waiting for a taxi in the early hours of the morning, they were approached by five Lebanese youths.

JANE: There were five of them and two of us and they were big. And, just, you know, five guys coming up to you and two girls. It's scary. [They said:] "Just come with us. We're having a party."

JANE: I just remember someone grabbing my hand and we were in the car and one of the guys said to us ... pulled out a knife and said: "If you do as you are told, nothing will happen to you."

LIZ HAYES: What did you think was going to happen to you at that stage?

JANE: That we'd just end up like one of those stories where a girl gets chucked over the bridge, killed. So many thoughts were going through our heads.

SUE: I never thought I would survive it.

LIZ HAYES: Even at that stage?

SUE: Even at that stage.

LIZ HAYES: Jane and Sue were taken to a house in suburban Sydney and forced into separate rooms.

JANE: One of the guys produced a knife and said, "You're not going anywhere." I was screaming and he goes, "Look, listen, you're not going to get out until we all have sex with you." I said, "No, you are not." I actually looked at him and said, "You're not." I told him I was a virgin to keep him from not doing anything.

LIZ HAYES: It's okay. Could you hear any of this?

SUE: I could hear some screaming and crying, so I ran to the room where she was. I was so confused and I wanted to help her, but there was nothing I could do because they were pushing me away and slamming my face in the door. There was nothing I could do.

LIZ HAYES: Did you think you would get out alive?

SUE: Nope.

LIZ HAYES: Sue, I think not long after that, the door was opened to your room.

SUE: I just heard some screaming in another language. I didn't know what they were saying and a guy turned around to me and said, "I'm sorry, I have to let them in." I'm just like, "Why?" And he's like, "I have to", and he opened up the door and the biggest guy, the guy with the ponytail came in. The big guy offered me a cigarette and told me to sit down, so I sat down. He's just like, "We're just going to talk." I said, "Okay." I'm just like ... I knew exactly what was going to happen. I was looking around the room trying to think of things to do just to delay the inevitable. Like, I kept asking for drinks, kept having a cigarette all the time and just asked him stuff like about his tattoos and – I don't know – anything to just, like, keep him away from me as much as possible. He told me to take off my clothes and I told him, "No, I'm not doing this." He said, "You have to, your friend's life is at stake here. What are you going to do?" I started resisting and then he came over and started undoing my pants and then he pushed me back down on the bed and he, like, held a knife up against my throat and it was jabbing into the top of my chin so every single time I swallowed, screamed or cried or anything, the knife would go into me. And ... it ... it was so humiliating. I didn't know what to do. I tried to cover my face just to block it out, everything that was happening. There was nothing I could do.

LIZ HAYES: Did you know what was happening to Sue?

JANE: Yeah, I could hear it. The guy with the ponytail came out and said, "What a tight bitch", and pulled his pants back up. I just wanted to kill him. But I couldn't do anything.

LIZ HAYES: Throughout the night the girls were held captive. Their physical abuse was compounded by cruel mind games and racial taunts. Can you tell me specifically the sort of things they said?

SUE: "You deserve it because you're an Australian."

LIZ HAYES: They actually said that?

SUE: Yeah.

LIZ HAYES: For both of you, what has been the worst part of that attack?

SUE: Probably being told they were going to kill Jane if I didn't do anything with them. I had her life in my hands. I didn't know what to do. How could I live with knowing I could have killed somebody because of what I didn't want to do?

JANE: There are no words that can express how you are feeling about this. I mean, it was horrible. Something I never want to go through again.

LIZ HAYES: After five hours, the girls were finally released. Jane was dumped at a nearby service station. And then, in one last callous act, Sue was pushed from the vehicle as it sped down the road.

SUE: I just got up and started running and I ran into the petrol station and I saw Jane and she was bawling her eyes out and I went up and threw my arms around her.

LIZ HAYES: The youths were soon arrested, but on the eve of the trial, their lawyers met with the officers of the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions to discuss a deal. How did you feel about the fact that a deal was being done? Did you feel as though it was the right thing to do at the time?

SUE: Well, yeah, because they said the court would be horrific. You would have to live through everything again and it's just so much easier if they do plead guilty. We have enough evidence that they are going to anyway.

JANE: I was just like, "Oh my god, I can't believe this is happening. Something good is coming out of this finally."

LIZ HAYES: What followed is a process commonly known as plea-bargaining — a deal reached between prosecution and defence lawyers. It is used to expedite court cases and spare victims the trauma of cross-examination. It's a form of legal horse-trading. "I'll plead guilty if you go easy on me." Did they tell you that to get the offenders to plead guilty it would mean sacrificing some of your story?

SUE: Yeah, they did say that. They said, "We don't have to worry about the little things, like the slap on the face, the taking of your personal belongings, because they'll be going to jail for a long time", so that stuff didn't mean anything.

LIZ HAYES: Did they say to you it would also mean that your claim that you were forced into the car and that knives were produced and threats were made would also be removed?

SUE: No, they said that was one of the main charges.

LIZ HAYES: So, you were led to believe that would stay in?

SUE: Yes.

LIZ HAYES: You're absolutely certain about that?

SUE: I'm certain.

LIZ HAYES: This is the story that finally made it to court. The girls' claim that they were kidnapped was changed to say they had voluntarily got into the car and no longer was there any mention of the knife produced or the threats made during the drive. Most of the original charges had simply been dropped. When did you realise that those crucial points about being forced into the car, threats being made against you, knives being produced had been taken out?

SUE: The night of the sentence.

LIZ HAYES: That's the first time?

SUE: That's the first time.

LIZ HAYES: You found out where?

SUE: The media.

LIZ HAYES: The families of the youths were clearly happy with the leniency of the sentences.
Judge Megan Latham had no alternative but to base her sentences on the agreed story presented by the prosecution lawyers. In a decision that caused outrage, three of the youths were jailed for between 18 months and six years. Non-parole periods could see one of them released as early as next week.

JANE: The justice system is disgusting. How can they let them only go in for a short time? They are not even thinking about us.

LIZ HAYES: They just didn't get enough time?

JANE: They didn't get enough time.

SUE: They could have told us at least that they were going to change it and then let us decide what we wanted to do from there. But they didn't. Personally, I would rather go through the process of court because at least my story is getting told and they are actually getting sentenced on what they did and not what they didn't do.

LIZ HAYES: Why was it important to have those facts in there?

SUE: Because that was one of the ... like the kidnapping was ... it's how the whole thing started. Like, we wouldn't have been in that house if it wasn't for that. When people tell me it doesn't matter, it really does.

LIZ HAYES: Do you think the fact that these aspects to your story were removed has changed people's perception of what occurred?

JANE: Yeah.

LIZ HAYES: What do you think they think?

JANE: That we got into the car.

LIZ HAYES: Willingly?

JANE: Willingly. And that's not true. As if you'd get in the car with five guys — that is asking for something. You know, no-one smart would get in the car with five big guys. It's just ridiculous.

LIZ HAYES: Nicholas Chowdry, the Director of Public Prosecutions, has declined to explain to 60 Minutes why his department changed the girls' stories so dramatically. While there's some hope of an appeal against the sentences, it's of little comfort to Sue and Jane.


SUE: There's nothing that I can do. Like, I always feel that everybody is looking at me and just viewing me differently. I just always feel, in a way, "dirty", to describe it.

LIZ HAYES: Your image of yourself has changed?

SUE: Yep. It's changed everything I do.

JANE: I'm always looking over my shoulder thinking, "God, someone could be behind me" or, I'll be on the bus and I just see one of their faces just come up to you on the window and you sort of go, "Oh my god, I can't believe I just saw their face."

LIZ HAYES: Jane and Sue know it is going to take them a long time to recover and they're dealing with their pain in different ways.

JANE: I think I'm a pretty strong person. I've sort of in a way had to forgive these guys to get on with my life.

LIZ HAYES: Do you think you've honestly done that?

JANE: Um, you can forgive, but you can't forget.

LIZ HAYES: But Sue says she can never forgive.

SUE: They're the lowest things. They are so low because they didn't just rape us, they took away our self-being, they humiliated us, they cast so much shame onto us, they made me doubt myself. They've just changed every single little thing about me. They're just scum, basically.

ENDS


Previous Stories
 Nov 2001 | Oct 2001 | Sep 2001Aug 2001 | Jul 2001 | Jun 2001 |

Click Index Click Headline
  Date   Story
 September 30, 2001 Through a blue lens
  Nat's back
  Striking back
 September 23, 2001 The terror
  Wasted lives: anorexia
  Sam I am
 September 16, 2001 The terror
  John Howard: US crisis
  Pakistan: Richard Carleton
  Osama bin Laden
  Richard Butler
 September 9, 2001 The last wave: Afghani asylum seekers
  Million dollar Bill: An American president
  The mask: David Wenham
 September 2, 2001 Life sentence: victims of gang rape
  Don's Party: our coaching sensation
  The Asylum Seekers
 
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