On Boxing Day, the day after he sexually assaulted a 13-year-old boy in the child’s own bed, Joseph Wakim sent him an email. “On Christmas Day I watched another miracle,” Wakim wrote.
“There is so much I would like to share with you; [you are a] caterpillar emerging from the cocoon and shining as a glorious butterfly.”
The court was told the boy and his family had been left devastated at their betrayal by Wakim, 53, who has been a multicultural community leader, media contributor and public figure for more than 20 years.
In 1995, Wakim was presented with an Order of Australia for his work on addressing racism.
He co-founded the Australian Arabic Council, and was the state’s youngest-ever Victorian Multicultural Commissioner.
He is the author of a book about raising his three daughters as a single father, a former columnist for various media outlets including Fairfax Media, and was a finalist for the United Nations Australia Association — Media Award in 2014, for creating “a voice for the voiceless”.
But on Friday, the County Court heard disturbing details about Wakim’s treatment of a vulnerable 13-year-old boy, and Judge Amanda Chambers accepted his guilty plea for the sexual penetration of a child younger than 16.
He faces a maximum jail term of 10 years.
Wakim, who was immaculately dressed in a blue suit, cream vest and silver tie, answered “currently unemployed” when asked his occupation.
The court was told Wakim had gained the boy’s trust over a series of months last year after he rekindled a friendship with the boy’s mother, who he had met through church.
A statement by the victim’s mother was read to the court. The woman said she felt betrayed by Wakim, who she had trusted as a friend and as a community leader, and described her guilt and anguish at her son’s pain.
“When [my son] told me, I felt that my heart was stabbed with a knife and my whole world was crumbling around me,” her statement read in part.
“I’m supposed to be the protector of my children, and I failed … I’ve lost the ability to trust anyone.”
She has heart palpitations several times a week, the court was told, and has had to seek specialist medical care.
Wakim did not react as the woman’s harrowing victim impact statement, nor that of her young son, were read to the court.
In his statement, the boy said he had been left feeling frustrated, confused and angry by the attack, and he wished he could go back to being the person he was before the abuse.
“Why did you do it? Why, why why?”
Crown Prosecutor Mia Stylianou told the court Wakim had spent increasing amounts of time in the victim’s family home in Melbourne’s northern suburbs in the months leading up to the attack.
Although he lived in New South Wales, Ms Stylianou said Wakim would take every opportunity to visit the family, even encouraging the parents “to have a night out” and offering to babysit the victim and his siblings.
Wakim told the parents, Ms Stylianou said, “he wanted to take advantage of every moment with them [the children].”
As he gained more and more trust, she said, Wakim spent increasing amounts of time with the family, but especially the victim.
The boy was not doing well at school, the court was told, and Wakim took it upon himself to act as a mentor and friend to the boy.
But the relationship became increasingly physical.
Wakim would massage the boy, showered him with attention and gifts, and would often kiss the boy’s hand and put his hand in the boy’s lap as he drove with the boy in his car.
The boy later said the kisses made him uncomfortable.
Wakim – a Christian – dropped in on the family late on Christmas night, as their celebrations were winding up, and took the children to visit the Christmas lights.
After the mother put the boy to bed, the court heard, Wakim went upstairs to give him a lengthy massage, before sexually assaulting the boy.
“I just lost myself,” the boy later told police. “I just tried to shut down.”
The court was told the boy’s mother had fallen asleep on the couch, and after she realised that Wakim was still in the home she walked upstairs to find him, causing Wakim to stop.
He left soon afterwards, and the boy told his mother what had happened.
Wakim was interviewed by police two days later, and pleaded guilty to the sexual assault of a minor on March 31.
The court was told he has no prior convictions, and had served no time in jail before his sentencing for the offending.
Defence barrister Ian Hill QC told the court that Wakim had resigned from the Order of Australia, as a Justice of the Peace, and various other roles.
He tendered psychologist and psychotherapist reports to the court, and media reports about Wakim – both glowing reports before his arrest, and negative reports after his arrest.
Mr Hill said Wakim had himself been the victim of sexual assault, and had been left with feelings of “guilt, shame, remorse, disgust and a disbelief at what he had done”.
Wakim had felt suicidal for “a period” after the offence, Mr Hill said.
Wakim identifies as heterosexual, the court was told, and is currently in a relationship with a woman.
Mr Hill told the court that Wakim’s offending should be seen as one incident “in an otherwise exemplary life”.
Mr Hill said Wakim felt “guilt, shame, remorse, disgust and a disbelief at what he had done”, and would face a difficult time in prison.
Mr Hill urged Judge Amanda Chambers not to send Wakim to jail, saying the man’s “anguish” at not being able to be free to look after his daughters should also be taken into account in deciding whether to imprison him.
The offence carries a maximum penalty of 10 years’ jail.
Judge Chambers reserved her sentencing decision to a later date.
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