Reports about child sex abuse in Australia are increasing: According to the National Office for Child Safety, the number of sexual assaults against children between 2014 and 2019 recorded by police grew by 21%. This figure doesn't, of course, fully shed light on the true extent of the problem of child sex abuse across the country, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics published in August 2021 estimating that 1 in 10 women, as well as 1 in 20 men, suffered from child sexual abuse.
Increased reporting and public awareness led Federal Parliament in 2020 to set mandatory minimum sentencing requirements for child sex abuse in Australia — and across the world. Parliament, by virtue of being a national lawmaking body, was able to pass legislation that individual states cannot, including rules governing child sex offences committed by Australian adults abroad.
Considering mandatory minimums
In many areas of the law, judges and magistrates have the freedom to interpret the law when it comes to sentencing, or assigning penalties to parties found to be guilty of a crime. Normally, this autonomy to skillfully interpret the specifics of a given case when it comes to sentencing is carefully guarded. It is considered a nuanced process because no two cases are the same.
Yet in some cases, particularly where the type of crime is considered especially heinous or repugnant, lawmakers see fit to set clearer guidelines and require certain minimums. The area of child sex abuse is one such corner of the law.
The measure which has set mandatory minimums is the Crimes Legislation Amendment, or Sexual Crimes Against Children and Community Protection Measures. Among other things, it:
- Introduces mandatory minimum penalties for certain Commonwealth child sex offences and offenders;
- Requires a court to state and record the reasons for granting bail;
- Inserts a presumption against bail for certain Commonwealth child sex offenders;
- Inserts additional factors which must be taken into account when sentencing federal offenders;
- Requires the court to have regard to certain rehabilitation considerations when sentencing Commonwealth child sex offenders;
- Inserts presumptions in favour of cumulative sentences and actual terms of imprisonment for Commonwealth child sex offenders.
A glance through the legislation reveals that convicted child sex offenders are subject to penalties at all times during their time interacting with the judicial system, even considering bail.
A look at the crime
Starting in 2021, the Commonwealth Government is set to put $146 million toward the initial phase of a new National Strategy to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse. This phase is expected to last four years. As part of the strategy, a 10-year framework will be created to better respond to and discourage child sexual abuse in the country.
Defining child sexual abuse
According to the Family Law Act of 1975, sexual abuse of a child involves either a physical sexual assault of the child or a sexual activity in which the child is used as a sexual object. These interactions involve an unequal balance of power between the child and the person or persons instigating the situation.
The definition includes causing the child to suffer serious psychological harm, such as being subjected or exposed to family violence. Finally, serious neglect of the child is also part of the legal definition.
Sentencing time frames
Various crimes and scenarios are assigned different minimum penalties. These include a minimum of six years of jail time for being convicted of having sex with a child outside Australia. Maximum penalties reach at least two decades.
Other penalties include a six-year mandatory minimum jail sentence for using a mobile, Wi-Fi or another connective service to procure or facilitate sexual activity with anyone under 16 years of age.
If you or someone you care about is accused of child sex abuse, it is vital to quickly secure the services of a criminal lawyer. As we've described, sexual abuse perpetrated against children, and any related offences, are treated extremely seriously by Queensland courts.
Russo Lawyers' team of solicitors has decades of criminal law experience in supporting all our clients – contact us today to discuss your case.