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Australian Artist Appeals Rape Case Saying ‘He Didn’t Know it Was Wrong’

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A prominent Australian artist who was sentenced to nine years in prison for repeatedly raping and ultimately impregnating a 12-year-old child, before sexually assaulting her 14-year-old sister, is appealing his sentence- and even has support from some members of the art community.

World renowned artist Dennis Nona, 42, claims that he never learned that raping children is a crime in the indigenous Torres Strait island community where he grew up.  He was sentenced last year for his crimes.

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He is arguing that on the island of Badu where he grew up, polygamy is practiced and nobody ever said to him, “hey, don’t rape children.”

The rapes and assault took place while Nona was completing a two-year art degree in Canberra in 1996.  The 12-year-old was impregnated during one of the rape’s and opted to have an abortion when the pregnancy was discovered at 20-weeks.

The National Gallery of Australia has removed Nona’s art, but he is still receiving support from some within the community, including his former manager Michael Kershaw, who calls him a “role model.”

Also coming to his defense is art historian Frances Commings.

“I’m very supportive of him,” Cummings told the Daily Telegraph. “He is a genius of an artist and the things he committed were when he was a very young man.”

Nona’s work has sold to galleries and collectors around the world for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“The bright line that exists in Canberra between appropriate and inappropriate treatment of children did not exist when he was raised on Badu Island,” Chief Justice Helen Murrell told ABC. “None of this excuses the offender’s conduct, but it does provide a context.”

Nona will be back in court for his appeal hearing on October 7, 2015. If the appeal is denied, he will not be eligible for parole until 2017.

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