By Dr Cathy Kezelman AM, President, Blue Knot Foundation
Blue Knot Foundation welcomes the 85 recommendations for sweeping legislative and policy reform, provided by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse around the criminal justice system. Their broad-based implementation is set to increase the effectiveness of responses to institutional child sexual abuse, from police, court, judicial and prosecution responses to optimising justice, for the complainant and the accused, enhancing criminal justice responses for victims, and extending much-needed support for victims in the process. This includes reforms set to tackle delays, sentences and appeals, and grooming offences. It also recommends new offences including ‘failure to report’ and ‘failure to protect’.Crimes of child sexual abuse have lower reporting rates, higher attrition rates, lower charging and prosecution rates and lower conviction rates. Counterintuitively although more complainants are coming forward more defendants are being acquitted since the Royal Commission was established. Hopefully these recommendations will be proactively implemented to help address the significant deficiencies in the system.
Currently the victim often does not have a central role in the criminal justice system. They become witnesses asked to relive the trauma of their crime. This is often highly re-traumatising, exposing and humiliating. Many feel robbed of the opportunity to share their feelings about the crime and how it has affected them.
These changes will foster greater participation of child and adult victims in the criminal justice process by giving victims back a central role in the system, in a way which is informed, supported and potentially reduces their risk of re-traumatisation. These changes will also help vindicate the dignity of victims and better protect the vulnerable against further violence.
Tendency and coincidence evidence and joint trials
The inclusion of 8 recommendations for legislative reform will allow greater use of evidence by multiple victims in relation to a single perpetrator i.e. additional evidence from other complainants or witnesses will be included if relevant, such as a tendency to behave in a particular way or allegations or convictions of a similar complaint. It debunks prior beliefs that such evidence would be prejudicial as has not been found to be the case, and in fact might have led to unwarranted acquittals, and, in the past undermined credibility of complainants.
Grooming children and those around them
Recommended changes to criminal justice system – Royal Commission Criminal Justice Report
Legislation is recommended to include a broad grooming offence that includes any scenario in which the intention is to groom a child around child a sexual abuse offence, as well as the grooming of others associated with the child.
Failure to report offence
The inclusion of 5 recommendations to introduce a new criminal offence of failure to report institutional CSA for people working or volunteering with an institution where they know, suspect or should have suspected that an adult was or had sexually abused a child. The fact that this is aimed not at the perpetrator but a third party puts the onus on informed others to act. It will hopefully play a critical role in reducing the number of victims of perpetrators of CSA in institutions. The recommendation around religious confession is most welcome, as although Blue Knot Foundation respects the right of all religions to practice their religion, children must be protected from the insidious crime of child sexual abuse. There should be no exemption in that regard, the confessional included.
Failure to protect a child within an institution
The Commission has recommended that failure of an adult associated with an institution to protect a child from substantial risk of sexual abuse should be made a criminal offence. As has often occurred, the practice of moving perpetrators around has often resulted in many new victims by the same perpetrator.
Improvements for complainants in court
The recommendations related to improving the experience of complainants in court includes 19 recommendations to improve police responses to encourage reporting, enhance police interviewing, and address issues of police responses to historical CSA and reports of CSA by people with a disability. Blue Knot Foundation is strong proponent of ongoing training for all police, legal and justice personnel. The recommendations to enable the giving of optimal evidence by victims through better information, communication and reforms including provision of an intermediary, providing other ways to give evidence, and greater understanding of the information to include within a Victim Impact Statement.
Sentencing standards in historical cases
The Commission has recommended that all states and territories should introduce legislation so that sentences for child sexual offences align with the standards of the time of sentencing rather than that of the offending. At the same time the maximum sentence is limited to the maximum sentence available at the time the offence was committed.
Follow this link to read the full article: http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/policy-and-research/our-policy-work/criminal-justice