Luke Lazarus, left, convicted of sexual assault, outside his father's nightclub. Photo: Facebook
A series of prominent public figures who offered character references for a convicted rapist have been slammed by Australia's first Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
Pru Goward said those who advocated for Luke Andrew Lazarus had not only diminished their own standing, but could discourage victims from coming forward.
The parents of convicted rapist Luke Lazarus. Photo: Janie Barrett
"The very last thing any victim needs is to feel as though they are not only fighting back against the perpetrator, but also against other respected members of the community," said Ms Goward, who was appointed to the new portfolio in the NSW Parliament on Wednesday.
Lazarus, 23, was last month sentenced to a maximum jail term of five years for sexually assaulting a teenage girl and then bragging about taking her virginity.
In the early hours of May 12, 2013, he had lured the 18-year-old into an alley behind his family's Kings Cross venue by telling her they were going to a VIP area. He anally raped her after she tried to leave.
Luke Lazarus received glowing references from prominent public figures, including Mayor of Waverley. Photo: Janie Barrett
District Court Judge Sarah Huggett described the attack as the "spontaneous and opportunistic" actions of a young man who felt a sense of "power and entitlement" by virtue of his family's connection to the Soho club.
But Waverley mayor Sally Betts, the honorary secretary of the Honorary Consulate-General of Greece in Brisbane, Tsambico K Athanasas, and South Sydney Rabbitohs rugby league club chairman Nick Pappas declared their shock at his conviction and vouched for his good character in references prior to sentencing.
The parish priest at the Greek Orthodox Christian Church of St George, Rose Bay, Father Gerasimos Koutsouras, said: "The possibility of imprisonment is completely undeserved for this promising young man."
NSW Minister for Mental Health Pru Goward Photo: Brendan Esposito
Ms Goward, who is also Minister for Women, said victims often withdraw charges "and glowing references about their attackers will not help justice to be done".
"This terrible case should serve as a salutary reminder to all of us, but especially those with apparent standing in the community, that they should carefully consider just how willing they are to lend their support to a criminal," Ms Goward said.
"Not only does this diminish their standing, it can shatter the confidence of the victim and often discourages them from seeking justice."
Cr Betts, who is a friend of the Lazarus family, has defended urging the court not to jail the 23-year-old after the decision drew criticism from residents and some of her fellow councillors.
Waverly Labor councillor Ingrid Strewe said about 20 members of the public had contacted her to express disgust, with many demanding Cr Betts resign.
"Writing, signing as Mayor of Waverley, requesting a non-custodial sentence for a convicted rapist shows incredibly poor judgment," Cr Strewe said.
Cr Betts, who said she had not written the reference on official letterhead or on behalf of council, insisted that her request was based on her long association Bondi's Ways Youth Services, where she saw the benefit of non-custodial sentences for some young offenders.
"He must be punished, there is absolutely no doubt," said Cr Betts, who added that she would "absolutely" advocate for the victim.
Cr Betts said she had started working with Ways Youth Services to develop some educational programs for young people, and suggested they could be a way for Lazarus to "repay a tiny bit of the debt to society that he owes".
"When we get this program up and running, if it's possible for him to say to young people: 'This is what I did. I did the most terrible thing, I've ruined my family's life, I've ruined my life, be careful don't do it."'
But Ways spokesman David Faktor has distanced the organisation from the mayor's comments.
"I just want to make it very clear that her views and her position is not that of Ways and we just wouldn't be in a position to take a stance on what the best sentence is or isn't in relation to this particular person," Mr Faktor said.
Dr Pappas said he had no comment to make.
Father Gerasimos, whose reference said the charges against Lazarus were "an injustice", said he has provided hundreds of character references and "unfortunately made an evaluative statement that was not my place to make".
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story was amended to correct the title of Mr Athanasas.