What reforms is NSW introducing for child sex offences?

Date: Apr 30, 2018

The NSW government has announced a number of reforms in the state following recommendations from the Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse.

We summarised the 84 recommendations made in the commission's final report in November, so click here if you'd like to learn more.

Earlier this month, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Attorney General Mark Speakman revealed the state government is implementing most of the suggestions in an effort to clamp down on child sex abuse offences.

What child sex abuse laws are changing?

The headline-grabbing reform is that child sex offenders will now face a potential life sentence for persistent crimes. The average life sentence in the state is 25 years, according to the NSW Bureau of Crime and Statistics.

No further information was provided on what constitutes persistent offending, but legislation implementing the changes is due to go through NSW Parliament within the next couple of months.

Other recommendations the state government will proceed with include:

  • New criminal offences for not reporting child abuse or failing to protect children under care;
  • Ensuring courts do not take into account good behaviour defences where the supposed good behaviour facilitated offending;
  • Introducing a new law about grooming adults in order to access children; 
  • Strengthening existing grooming laws to include giving money and gifts to children;
  • Requiring courts to apply current sentencing standards to historic child sex abuse cases; and
  • Requiring courts to decide cases based on present understanding of how child abuse affects victims for life.

Put simply, the reforms will now criminalise certain activities and result in stiffer sentences for both offenders and those who are complicit in child sexual abuse.

Sanctity of the confessional remains intact

One recommendation the state government isn't implementing is a requirement for priests to report incidents of child sex abuse heard during confessions.

The sanctity of confession was a controversial element of the royal commission's report, and church leaders argued that priests should not be forced to go against their holy vows.

According to the NSW government, the seal of confession is a topic that should be debated at the national level before states and territories introduce new laws.

"They're complex issues that need to be balanced with what people believe to be religious freedoms," Ms Berejiklian told ABC News.

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