Prevention of child sexual abuse must underpin legislative reform
Our union has provided feedback regarding the Consultation Draft of the Criminal Code (Child Sexual Offences Reform) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019.
We have recommended the wording of the legislation be modified to create an emphasis on prevention of abuse, rather than focussing on ways of dealing with offences after they have occurred.
The proposed new legislation aims to strengthen Queensland’s child sexual offence laws by implementing recommendations from the Criminal Justice Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse.
Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Yvette D’Ath said a key priority for the Government is to implement recommendations that will provide a fairer response to victims of institutional child sexual abuse.
Mrs D’Ath said the proposed reforms include the creation of a new failure to report child sexual abuse offence.
“The Royal Commission found one of the greatest barriers to achieving justice for children who had been sexually abused were those faced in reporting,” she said.
“The new failure to report offence will help ensure children no longer need to suffer in silence, and instances of child sexual abuse are no longer able to go unreported to police, including where perpetrators disclose the abuse during religious confession.
“This new offence will carry a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment.”
Mrs D’Ath said while the State Government respects the rights of individuals to practise their religion freely, religious confessions will not be able to be used as an excuse to not report child sexual abuse.
A complementary offence of failing to protect against institutional child sexual abuse was also proposed and would carry a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment.
Our union believes most of the proposed changes will increase accountability of those in positions of power and empower victims of child sexual offences to pursue charges against perpetrators.
However, our union has concerns that some of the amendments don’t go far enough to focus on prevention of such abuse.
It is the view of our union that it is not sufficient to wait until the abuse has occurred to report that abuse.
Although it is unlawful to punish someone on mere suspicion of propensity to commit the offence, our union believes it is essential any modifications of the legislation should, where possible, provide an avenue for reporting of circumstances that could lead to the harm of a child and not merely reporting after the fact.
Secondly, in relation to the work of our members mandatory reporting requirements create an opportunity to raise concerns prior to an offence, but it is insufficient to protect children from becoming victims of child sexual offenses in an institutional context.
The new offences of ‘failure to report’ and ‘failure to protect’ are necessary to increase the standard of accountability of those in positions of power but are not sufficient to protect children from becoming victims of abuse.
Our union recommended that clauses be modelled on mandatory reporting legislation and deploy similar language as in the legislation governing mandatory reporting in the Child Protection Act 1999, where certain professionals referred to as ‘mandatory reporters’ are required to act/report if they form a “reasonable suspicion that a child has suffered, is suffering, or is at an unacceptable risk of suffering significant harm”.
To read the full IEUA-QNT submission, visit https://www.qieu.asn.au/about-your-union/public-submissions/