Penalties for a conviction of child sex abuse are steep and carry long-lasting implications. Mandatory minimum jail sentences were introduced at the federal level in 2020, per ABC News, and convicted offenders are also required to register their addresses with local police. Furthermore, they must ask permission to leave the country and are sometimes banned from travelling overseas.
Examining pertinent laws should impress upon the community that Australia takes these offences seriously. Over recent decades, the Commonwealth has implemented a "more systematic, national approach" to child abuse, including child sex abuse. States, meanwhile, have added more mandatory reporting laws, requiring professionals such as health care providers and teachers to report suspicions of abuse.
Overview of the charges
It may be surprising to realise Australian citizens and residents of Australia can be culpable for child sex abuse committed abroad. Among the possible charges are those of engaging in sexual intercourse or sexual activity with a person under the age of 16. The law does differentiate between the number of times the sexual intercourse or sexual activity transpired, meting out maximum penalties of up to 25 years imprisonment when the number of times the offence occurred is greater than three.
In early 2021 a Commonwealth court heard its first case of a citizen being charged with child sex abuse abroad. An Australian man pleaded guilty in a court room in Adelaide to eight offences involving sexual abuse of children in Cambodia. Sentencing is anticipated in August, 2021, ABC News reported.
Grooming a child who is under the age of 16 — or believed to be under the age of 16 — for sexual activities outside Australia carries with it imprisonment penalties of up to 12 years. Grooming a child is considered a crime even if it is impossible for the referred sexual activity to take place and even if the child is a fictitious person represented as a real person. The law defines grooming as acts made with the intention of "making it easier to procure the child to engage in sexual activities."
Charges of child sex abuse can also be asserted when the adult perpetrator is in a position of trust or authority over the child and engages in sexual intercourse with a person older than 16 but younger than 18. Again, charges may be levied even if the incident happened outside Australia. Penalties include imprisonment for up to 7 years.
Possession, control of, production of, distribution of or obtainment of child pornography material outside Australia by a citizen or resident is also an offence punishable by the Australian Government. Penalties increase when offences occur more than three times.
Evidence including sworn testimony regarding child sex abuse transpiring outside Australia may be submitted to the court via video link.
Sending and receiving child abuse material
Prosecutions for child sexual abuse are not limited to physical actions or materials but also involve the misuse of communications services: the internet, post or telephone. In nearly all cases, authorities focus on relationships between adults over 16 and those under 16. Young teenagers engaged in consensual relationships with each other are not the targets of these prosecutions.
These cases can include:
- An adult procuring and grooming a child under 16 for sexual activity.
- A person transmitting, accessing and soliciting child abuse or pornographic material depicting a child under 18 years of age.
- Activities such as viewing, copying, downloading, sending, exchanging and soliciting obscene material featuring children to others.
Penalties in these cases are steep. Someone convicted of accessing child pornography depicting a person aged under 18 may draw up to 15 years of jail time. Using a carriage service to carry on indecent communication to someone under 16 years old carries a 7-year sentence.
The Crimes (Child Sex Offenders) Act 2005 requires convicted offenders to keep police informed of their whereabouts and other personal details for a period of time. The length of time depends on the severity of the crime committed. No matter what, registered offenders may not work in child-related jobs after their sentencing.
Each state's police service maintains a registry. The National Child Offender System permits police to share child offender information across states. While there are periodic calls for these registries to be available for public perusal, they are currently for police use only.
Anyone who has been convicted and required to list their name on a child protection register cannot travel — or attempt to travel — abroad without permission from a person with powers, functions or duties with the child sex offender register. Should anyone fail to comply with this provision of the Commonwealth Criminal Code, they may face up to five years' imprisonment.
Ahead of their trip, any registered offender requesting to travel is guided to contact an embassy or consulate representing the country they wish to visit. This embassy or consulate is given the chance to determine if the registered offender will be allowed to enter their country.
Should anyone be accused of child sex abuse, securing the services of a criminal lawyer is vital. Violence and abuse of children are offences taken very seriously by the courts of Queensland. Russo Lawyers' team of solicitors has decades of criminal law experience in supporting all our clients – contact us today to discuss your case.