6 October 2023

Family friend accused of abusing two sisters 'has nothing to hide', barrister claims

| Albert McKnight
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A man is fighting accusations he sexually abused two sisters in a trial before the ACT Supreme Court. Photo: Albert McKnight.

CONTENT WARNING: This article refers to alleged indecent assaults.

A man accused of abusing two sisters when they were children or teenagers gave honest evidence when denying the allegations and has “nothing to hide”, his barrister claimed as his trial came to a close.

The now 30-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is fighting nine charges accusing him of committing sexual offences against the sisters in the 2010s in a trial that began in the ACT Supreme Court last month before closing addresses were held on Friday (6 October).

Keegan Lee, the man’s barrister, told jurors that when his client had been testifying in court, the prosecution had launched an “attack”, suggesting he was calm and not angry when giving evidence.

But according to Mr Lee, by saying something like “you’re not outraged enough”, it suggested there is some form of standard response to allegations like this.

In this case, he said it ignored the fact his client learnt of the allegations two years ago, and it was also “not a fair way to look at things”.

In the closing address by prosecutor Trent Hickey, he suggested the man had wanted to distance himself from the sisters while they were growing up when he had testified.

He also suggested the man’s answer that he had been “sad” when he read about the allegations was an “artificial” response.

Jurors have seen journal notes the younger sister wrote about the allegations when she was a teenager.

“It has ruined me. I felt used, like an object, weak, unvaluable. It broke me down to nothing,” she claimed in her journal.

“I didn’t think anyone would believe me.

“Seeing his face makes me want to die.”

She did write she didn’t remember how long the alleged assaults lasted or what age she was and stated the details were “hazy” as her “method of healing was to forget”.

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“I felt a lot of shame and guilt as to what had happened,” the younger sister alleged in the courtroom last week.

“Generally, in our community and communities like mine, we don’t talk about things like this. It’s a subject that gets swept under the rug all the time.

“So for something like this to happen, you almost feel at fault.”

During the closings on Friday, Mr Hickey urged jurors to imagine how a child who felt embarrassed and that they were in some way to blame might be less likely to tell someone about an alleged assault, particularly if they were part of a close-knit community.

The Canberra Hospital’s Dr Catherine Sansum, who practices forensic medicine in relation to children who report abuse and neglect, had also talked to jurors about the most common reaction of children after an alleged sexual assault.

“A child typically freezes and basically accepts what is happening,” she said last week.

She also said it was “quite rare” for a child to disclose abuse at the time it happened.

But in cross-examination from Mr Lee, Dr Sansum agreed that she hadn’t examined the two complainants in this case and that her evidence was of a general nature.

Jurors have heard it alleged that the younger sister was about six or seven when the man, a friend of the family, kissed her body on two occasions.

On the first, it is also alleged he sat her on his lap, touched her body and indecently assaulted her.

During the closings, Mr Lee said his client had admitted there were occasions when the younger sister had sat on his lap.

“He was frank about that because he has nothing to hide,” the barrister said.

However, the man denied each allegation, and Mr Lee claimed there were “obvious issues” with this sister’s memory.

The man is also alleged to have abused the older sister on several occasions when she was aged between about 14 and 17.

It is alleged he kissed her or touched her body after pulling her onto his lap and pushing her down or up against a wall.

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In the closings, Mr Hickey told the jurors that both sisters, one of whom said she had originally seen the man as like an “older brother”, alleged the assaults occurred when family members were nearby.

This showed the “brazenness” of the allegations, the prosecutor said.

But Mr Lee said three people said to have been nearby to some of the alleged incidents against the older sister had told the court they hadn’t seen anything.

“This kind of behaviour would have been highly offensive. It would have been noteworthy,” he said of one alleged incident.

The man has pleaded not guilty to four counts of committing an act of indecency on a young person, four counts of committing an act of indecency without consent and one count of sexual assault in the third degree.

Chief Justice Lucy McCallum will give her summary of the case to jurors on Monday.

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