Child sex abuse is a serious crime that carries significant custodial sentences in NSW for convicted offenders.
However, recent revelations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse have placed current sentencing laws under the spotlight.
As we learn more about the short- and long-term impact of child abuse on survivors, calls for more stringent punishment for offenders have become louder.
Let's examine the maximum criminal penalties allowed, as well as explore potential legislative changes that could be on the horizon.
Child abuse laws strengthened in 2015
NSW Parliament passed new sentencing laws in 2015 that increased the maximum jail time for guilty verdicts on child abuse cases.
Previously, Section 66A(1) of the Crimes Act 1900 stated that people convicted of sexual intercourse with a child aged under 10 years could be sentenced to a maximum of 25 years in prison. The standard non-parole period (SNPP), which sets the minimum term they must serve before being considered for an early release, was 15 years.
Section 66A(2) of the Act outlined the punishments for sexual intercourse with a child aged below 10 in circumstances of aggravation, which included violence against the victim or threats after the incident. Aggravated child abuse carried a life sentence and a SNPP of 15 years.
Parliament chose to repeal Section 66A(1) and 66A(2) and instead introduced a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for all crimes of sexual intercourse with children under 10, without specifying aggravating circumstances.
Changes on the horizon in 2018
Since the 2015 amendments, regulators have strengthened other areas of child sexual abuse law.
In 2016, the NSW government abolished time limits on compensation claims for child sex abuse victims, ensuring that individuals can still pursue damages for traumatic experiences suffered years or even decades ago.
Meanwhile, the Federal government recently unveiled the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Sexual Crimes Against Children and Community Protection Measures) Bill.
If given royal assent, the Bill – which will subsequently become an Act – could introduce mandatory minimum sentences for child sex abuse, as well as establish new laws for tackling online grooming and similar offences.
"These reforms will ensure that sentences reflect the heinous nature of these crimes," said Minister for Justice Michael Keenan earlier this year.
How these changes will affect sentencing in NSW is yet to be seen. But if you would like to know more about child sex abuse laws and compensation in the state, please call Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers.