Sentence suspended for kiss on stomach
Christopher Sutherland, 53, was sentenced in Grand Court last week to 20 weeks imprisonment, suspended for two years, after he admitted lifting the shirt of an eight year old girl and kissing her on the stomach.
Sutherland, described as a custodian at Elmslie Memorial Church and helper with youth activities and music, pleaded guilty to indecent assault last year. Sentencing was adjourned pending receipt of a psychiatric report and victim impact statement.
Sutherland resigned his position after the incident. He and the girl were known to each other.
In passing sentence, Justice Charles Quin noted that the basis of the guilty plea was an admission of the kiss on the stomach, but a denial of any other touching. Sutherland had indicated previously that he did not think what he had done was indecent, but he subsequently accepted that it was.
The offence took place at the church premises when the girl and her mother were downtown for a national holiday celebration. The mother called Sutherland and asked him to open a rest room for the girl to use.
Contact with the girl occurred after she did use the facility. Sutherland asked if she was going to tell her mother. She did, immediately.
The judge said this question showed that Sutherland knew what he did was inappropriate, if not indecent.
In the defendant’s favour, there had been no planning of the assault. Once brought to court, he pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity. He had no previous convictions.
Justice Quin thanked Crown Counsel Tricia Hutchinson for her submissions on sentencing and guidelines. He found the 2003 UK guidelines to be especially helpful, he indicated.
At the lower end of the scale of offences is contact between part of the offender’s body other than the genitalia with part of the victim’s body other than the genitalia. The starting point for sentencing is 26 weeks when the victim is younger than 13 and the offender pleads not guilty, Justice Quin summarised.
In this case, a probation officer filed a pre-sentence report in which a risk assessment was done and Sutherland found to be at medium to low risk of re-offending. There was no information that he had any propensity for violence.
The judge also read from references he described as glowing and said they had been furnished by people who thought long and hard before giving them. Referees included two church members and someone from the Humane Society, where Sutherland volunteered.
With a starting point of 26 weeks, Justice Quin gave credit for the early guilty plea and cooperation, imposing 20 weeks to reflect the gravity of the offence. Although suspended, it was still a sentence of imprisonment, he emphasised, because if Sutherland commits another offence within the next two years he will go to prison for this offence.
The judge told Sutherland to not put himself in a position for something like this to happen ever again. He urged the defendant to start the counselling programme referred to by Defence Attorney Lucy Organ and he suggested that Sutherland read the report about himself so he would be reminded “to be careful for the rest of your life.”
Ms Organ referred to various parts of the psychiatric report when she spoke in mitigation. The report did not say Sutherland was a risk to young children, she pointed out. The report did say he was capable of understanding social issues in an intellectual way, but his emotional intelligence was very low, as would be expected from his birth order and dysfunctional, oppressive childhood. He probably understood right from wrong in a basic way, but the nuances of social borderlines eluded him.
Ms Hutchinson highlighted part of a report summarising Sutherland’s attitude toward the offence. The report said it was clear that he did not recognise boundaries that one should not go beyond with a child.