Opinion

Education and counselling the missing ingredients

  • Debi Ray-Rivers

Saving Children and Revealing Secrets is extremely pleased with the statement submitted by the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs with reference to the Criminal Code (Sex Offender Management) Amendment Act 2018, especially given that specific attention is drawn to the impact and threat posed by individuals who prey on children.

The amendments recommended to the Act go a long way in implementing some of the recommendations identified in the Report of the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on the Necessity for a Public Sex Offenders Register and pertinent matters relating to convicted sex offenders, specifically recommendation No 2: Management of Sexual Offenders.

That said, our review of the information presented in the sex offender fact sheet provided by the Attorney-General, as effective as it is, still presents potential gaps in the child protection framework and sex offender management. Those potential gaps are:

• It’s unclear at what point will convicted child sex offenders be assessed and by whom. Will this assessment occur before sentencing to determine the severity of their issue and the application of sentencing guidelines as a result?

• Have provisions been made to ensure that a trained forensic psychologist specialising in paedophilia is an integral part of the offenders risk management team?

• How will convicted sex offenders be managed in our community? For example, GPS monitoring ankle bracelet, protected zones, etc. How will the probation officer ascertain the whereabouts on a 24-hour basis?

• Will there be further amendments to the law to restrict convicted child sex offenders from working in youth-serving organisations, working for organisations that provide services to youth-serving organisations, and/or living in a household with children, etc?

• There are no provisions to address mandated reporters who fail to report child sexual abuse

• The fine for anyone who discloses information from the register without lawful authority, is liable to conviction and a fine of $10,000. That’s difficult when sometimes it is already public knowledge through legitimate news sources. In addition, we notice that the fine for offenders who fail to comply with requirements of the team are subject to a much lesser fine of $3,000 or six months’ imprisonment — or both. In our view, this poses the greater risk to our children, and the fine amount and sentence time should be revisited. It would appear the punishment for people whose intent is to protect children is greater than for those who intend to harm children.

It is our hope that the Government implements the other two prongs of the three-prong approach stated in the Joint Select Committee’s report, which include:

• Education, awareness and effective preventive measures

• Counselling and support of victims and their families

We look forward to the Attorney-General advancing these two additional initiatives.

In closing, this is solely about child protection. The true litmus test is, given the amendments to this Act, if a person is convicted, serves their time, does what is required and is released, would you allow that person to be entrusted with the care of your child and other children in the community?

Let that be the basis by which we govern our actions.

Debi Ray-Rivers is the founder and executive director of Saving Children and Revealing Secrets, the child sex abuse prevention charity