Royal Commission report highlights criminal justice

PENNY MULVEY

THE Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse might have concluded both private and public hearings, but the work is far from complete.

Last month the Royal Commission released a number of reports, with the most significant titled Criminal Justice. This weighty volume – 2070 pages including appendices – makes 85 recommendations aimed at reforming the Australian criminal justice system to make it fairer for victims of institutional child sexual abuse.

A number of the recommendations relate to police and prosecution responses, evidence of complainants and sentences and appeals. Some also relate to the faith community and other institutions, and identify offences such as grooming, ‘failure to report’ and ‘failure to protect’.
Royal Commission CEO Philip Reed said the criminal justice system is often seen as not effective in responding to child sexual abuse cases. Conviction rates are lower compared to other crimes.

“Child sexual abuse cases are often ‘word against word’ cases with no eyewitnesses or medical or scientific evidence. Complainants often take years or decades to disclose their abuse,” Mr Reed said.

“Although we have focused on child sexual abuse in institutions, these 85 recommendations are likely to improve responses to child sexual abuse in all contexts.”

While all Australian jurisdictions have grooming offences, the legislation varies. The Royal Commission is committed to creating consistency in relation to reporting, definitions and legislation relating to child sexual abuse.

As a result of the recommendations of the Betrayal of Trust report, Victoria is an exemplar for other jurisdictions, and the Royal Commission points to Victorian law on a number of occasions in this report. The Criminal Justice report acknowledges that broader grooming offences can be difficult to prove in circumstances beyond the narrower online or specific grooming offences.

“What makes apparently innocent  behaviour become grooming behaviour is the intention of the person engaging in the behaviour,” the report said.

However, the report argues that its decision to recommend a broader grooming offence will provide the criminal law context for institutional codes of conduct.

“We consider that a broader grooming offence could help to emphasise the wrongfulness of grooming behaviour which should perform an educative function for institutions, their staff, parents, children and the broader community,” the report said.

The report notes that children are not the only targets of grooming, and recommends that changes to criminal law should provide a broad definition.

Crosslight’s feature this month supports this contention. Rev Ann Key writes of the careful, planned grooming of entire communities to enable the groomer to become invaluable, loved and highly respected, therefore able to readily access his/her targeted victim/s.

The church, with a focus on forgiveness, redemption and love, is a ready target for cunning groomers. Ms Key states that the groomer shows the same attributes as innocent and well-meaning individuals. She says patterns of behaviour can be a giveaway. She also says it is important to not discount someone’s intuition.

The Culture of Safety continues to educate congregations about grooming as well as other aspects of the Safe Church program. There have been some further changes to the Keeping Children Safe policy, which are being outlined in the Safe Church training. These relate to the removal of ‘direct supervision’ and professional exemptions; tighter definitions around negative notices and ‘appointed leader’ and support for small congregations.

For all information relating to the Keeping Children Safe policy, supporting templates and training please go to ucavictas.org.au/keepingchildrensafe

 

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