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Fear or Favour by David Heilpern.

Date: 13 February 1998
Author: The Hon Justice Michael Kirby AC CMG Justice of the High Court of Australia
Type: Foreword


The Hon Justice Michael Kirby AC CMG*

This book does not make pleasant reading. It is about violence, specifically sexual violence, in our prisons. It is based on work done by the author towards a university master's degree. But although it should be read by scholars of criminality, it should also be read by public officials, judges, the media and ordinary citizens. In particular, the recommendations made at the end of the book deserve urgent attention. This is not just to protect the State (and therefore the community) from the legal claims which may be made in the future by prisoners subjected to unacceptable sexual violence whilst in custody. It is also because respect for basic human rights extends to prisoners. Once society is informed of the affronts to human dignity, it is a moral responsibility to do what can reasonably be done to guard those at risk, deter offenders and punish those proved guilty of wrongdoing. There are few more serious affronts upon human dignity than the instances of sexual violence recounted in this book.

Specially powerful is the way in which the author has permitted prisoners to speak directly to the reader in their own language, allowing fully for the risks of exaggeration, falsehood and fantasy. Most of the statements recorded in these pages have the ring of truth. "I see myself as a shattered mirror" says one prisoner. "Each piece reflecting a portion of what I used to be and what used to be the whole ...".

Some of the victims of violence are reported to have resorted to violent and sexual abuse on their release from prison and "gay bashing". In the context of the risks of HIV/AIDS, if the stories recorded here are only partly true, the responsibility to protect young prisoners from a life-threatening virus, acquired in prison, is strongly arguable. It is important to make the point that this book is not anti-homosexual. On the contrary, the author suggests that gay prisoners are often specially at risk of sexual violence. This is a book about situational homosexual activity which is accompanied not by love or mutual, adult consent. But by humiliation and violence apparently felt necessary to distinguish the perpetrators from the hated "poofters".

There has to be a better way. The problem of sexuality and prisons is complicated. But rape is no more tolerable of men than of women; in prison or in society at large. I defy anyone to read this book without feeling a need to do much better than we have been doing, as revealed in these pages.

Michael Kirby


By David Heilpern


The Hon Justice Michael Kirby AC CMG