Although staff there have said it is a bit disappointing that the laws will not be retrospective. The laws will put an end to the covering up of child abuse by individuals or organisations, according to the state’s premier, Denis Naphine.
The new laws will make it an offence, punishable by imprisonment, for anyone responsible for a child’s welfare to fail to submit information about child sexual abuse which they are aware of or fail to protect a child from that type of abuse.
The legislation will, however, not be retrospective, which Ballarat’s Centre for Sexual Assault finds disappointing, as staff there say that there are many victims of child sex abuse which the Centre has had to deal with which the new laws will not be able to consider.
A spokeswoman from the Centre, Shireen Gunn, said that the legislation was a good start, but thought that much more needed to be done to protect children from abuse. “It needs to be kept in the limelight”, she said.
Not everyone is happy about the way the legislation has been approved. The Community and Public Sector Union is unhappy about the reporting requirements that will now be necessary for its workers and feels that it may put pressure on a system that is already under serious strain. Karen Batt, a union representative, said that the state government should have consulted with the union more fully before going ahead with the legislation.
Ms Batt said that the unilateral way the new law had been approved and the threat of sanctions against those whose job it was in the public sector to have some responsibility for children would put too much pressure on the organisations that are already stressed by government cutbacks.
Acts of sexual abuse or attacks against children aged 16 and under have been covered up to now by Section 8C of the Victorian Crimes Act 1958, with various amendments. The section of the act specifically prohibits any sort of sexual act with a minor, i.e. anyone aged under 16.
The Act makes provisions for a variety of penalties which depend on the severity of the offence and the specific circumstances in which it took place. There is, for instance, a distinction between offences against children who are younger than 12 and those who are aged between 12 and 16.
There are also distinctions between perpetrators of sexual abuse against children depending on the age and relationship between the perpetrator and the victim. The new laws just announced by the state government are not aimed specifically at the perpetrators of sexual assault on children, but by third parties who have some degree of responsibility for their protection and fail to do so appropriately allowing sexual abuse to take place.
The new laws are likely to lead to a rash of charges that may or may not be justified. If you are responsible for children in some way and have been charged under the new legislation for failing to stop abuse, you should strongly consider contacting an experienced criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible.
Interpreting sexual assault laws is something that should be left to expert legal professionals and you should not think that it would be easy to defend yourself, particularly when it comes to crimes against children as views can be shrouded by emotion.