25 April 2023

Mother avoids convictions for repeatedly assaulting two-year-old daughter

| Albert McKnight
ACT Law Courts

A woman in her early 20s has avoided being convicted for assaulting her two-year-old daughter. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses child abuse.

A young mother who admitted repeatedly assaulting her two-year-old daughter has avoided being convicted because she has already spent over a month in jail.

In August 2022, she became frustrated when her daughter wouldn’t go to sleep, so she put her on the floor and slapped her in the face four times, saying, “Get to sleep, get to sleep”. Afterwards, the girl started to cry.

The next day, the mother, aged in her early 20s, was changing her daughter’s nappy when she struck her in the mouth. The girl raised her hands to her lip, was in pain and started crying.

The mother was refused bail when she was arrested and went on to spend 35 days in custody before she was released.

The girl became clingy after the attacks and started having severe tantrums multiple times a day, her father wrote in a statement read to the ACT Magistrates Court for the mother’s sentencing on Friday (21 April). Fortunately, her tantrums were improving.

He also wrote that she seemed frightened the night after the last assault, raising her hands as if to protect herself.

“As her mother, the application of force to her represents a violation of the trust between mother and child,” prosecutor Elizabeth Wren told the court.

“The decision to hit a child on the head or face is so far removed from what the community expects of appropriate parenting.”

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The prosecutor said the two-year-old girl was inherently vulnerable and had limited verbal capacity so couldn’t articulate what happened to her.

The mother’s lawyer, Jeremy Banwell of Legal Aid, argued it was a case of “chastisement gone too far”.

He said in the first incident, his client wanted her daughter to go to sleep, but she was being naughty and wouldn’t. In the second, the girl had been naughty again and was pouring juice around while her mother was changing her nappy.

He argued that the woman’s actions were not born out of malicious intent, but were excessive and inappropriate discipline.

He also said the physical discipline of children was acceptable in the woman’s culture, which was the way she had been raised herself, but she now knew that conduct would not be tolerated.

While the mother pleaded guilty to two counts of common assault, Mr Banwell ultimately asked the court not to record convictions.

Magistrate Jane Campbell remarked, “being a parent is never easy” and that “a mother is in a special place of trust to a child”, so anything done to break that trust is confusing and dangerous to the child, she said.

“I think that your actions would have caused pain to your child,” the magistrate told the mother, also saying she did not accept the submission that it was chastisement gone too far.

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The magistrate said the woman had assaulted her child because she was a young, inexperienced mother in a difficult family situation with limited support and insufficient parenting skills.

She also thought her cultural background had an impact.

Magistrate Campbell said as the mother had spent 35 days in custody, she had been disproportionally punished already, so she decided not to record convictions for her charges.

She was handed a 12-month good behaviour order, during which she will be supervised by authorities. Legally, she cannot be named.

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