New laws that make it a crime for any adult in Canberra not to report suspected child sexual abuse will come into effect next month, as part of the ACT Government’s response to the Royal Commission’s report into child sexual abuse.
Under the laws, if an adult believes on reasonable grounds that a child has or is being sexually abused, it would be a crime not to report it to police.
The Royal Commission found that adults who become aware of sexual abuse involving a child do not always report it to police, nor do they always take steps to protect the child from abuse.
As a result, Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said the ACT Government will implement a suite of measures, including mandatory reporting and making it an offence to fail to report child sexual abuse.
From 1 September, changes to ACT laws will mean that adults who reasonably believe that a sexual offence has been committed against a child, must make a report to police. Failure to make a report is an offence.
Religious leaders and members of the clergy of the Catholic Church will now be mandated reporters, and information disclosed during confession must also be reported.
“The work of the Royal Commission is about ensuring that we have a cultural change for all adults to know that it is all of our responsibilities to make sure that children are safe,” Mr Ramsay said.
“This is about every adult’s responsibility in the ACT.
“We looked at whether there should be any exclusions for this, based on any particular religious practice. We don’t believe that there is any evidence that there should be any group of people for whom there is an exception.
“Nothing should be more important than making sure our children are safe.”
“I understand sensitivities around the expression of faith. But as the ACT Attorney-General let me be unequivocally clear: Australians, regardless of their institution or faith have an obligation to adhere to the laws of our Nation, our States and Territories,” Mr Ramsay stated in an opinion piece penned for Region Media in March.
But while the Catholic church has endorsed the new legislation, Archbishop Christopher Prowse said he will direct priests who hear a confession from an abuser to “do all they can to bring the matter outside the confessional” to report it, without having to break the seal of confession.
The ACT Government will launch a public awareness campaign over the coming weeks in the lead up to September 1, to ensure that every Canberran is aware of the law change and their legal obligations.
Mr Ramsay said the failure to report offence carries a penalty of up to two years in prison.
“There will be serious punishment. It is a serious offence. It is a serious matter,” he said. “Child sexual abuse has a life-long impact on people.
“Every adult has a clear responsibility to make sure children are brought up safely and when that responsibility is breached, it is everybody’s responsibility to make sure the police is aware of it.”
ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner Heidi Yates said there is no excuse not to report child sexual abuse, regardless of fears of repercussions.
“In the Royal Commission, they interviewed a psychologist who had worked with 30 to 40 offenders, who said that 80 per cent of them had actually confessed multiple times during confession,” Ms Yates said.
“The Royal Commission made it very clear that a countless number of children in Australia and in Canberra had been subjected to horrific child sex abuse and that the institutions they trusted failed to keep them safe and did not hold those responsible to account.
“It is very important that every adult in our community who has contact with children, whether that be at school, sports club, or religious community, knows what the law says about their obligation to report.
“We have to make sure that wherever there is reasonable evidence that a child is at a risk or is being abused, that action is taken and that the community understands this applies to every adult.”
For further information on the new laws, click here.