Legal Affairs and Safety Committee: Criminal Code (Child Sexual Offences Reform) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 (Qld)
This submission provides feedback on the Criminal Code (Child Sexual Offences Reform) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 (Qld) (“the Bill”). The submission applies ANROWS evidence and broader peer-reviewed research to discuss the failure to report offence that is included in the Bill and suggests that this offence may not function as intended.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (“the Royal Commission”) recommended that state and territory governments introduce legislation to create a criminal offence of failure to report, which was targeted at child sexual abuse in institutional settings. The Queensland Criminal Code (Child Sexual Offences Reform) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 expands upon this to create an offence of failure to report belief of child sexual offence, which is directed at the general public and requires all Queensland adults to report child sexual abuse to police.
While ANROWS commends the intention of this Bill to send the community-wide message that child sexual abuse is not acceptable, we note that there may be unintended consequences for mothers experiencing domestic and family violence (DFV). ANROWS notes the following concerns regarding the unintended consequences of the Bill:
- The offence is directed at the general public, who have likely not undergone training in mandatory reporting.
- The offence, in combination with expanded definitions of child abuse and mandatory reporting requirements, may result in increased awareness and reporting of child abuse. While this may have positive impacts, it may also result in child protection departments becoming overwhelmed and unable to identify and address serious cases that require immediate action.
- The cohort of people required to report is likely to include a high proportion of women experiencing DFV, as child sexual abuse often co-occurs with DFV.
- Women experiencing DFV can have individual histories that make it hard to identify child sexual abuse, including personal histories of child sexual abuse and unresolved trauma.
- Women experiencing DFV who are in an ongoing relationship with the perpetrator face barriers, complexity and risk in reporting child sexual abuse.
- Women experiencing DFV are already unreasonably pressured to assume responsibility for the actions of perpetrators.
- Reporting child sexual abuse in the context of separation from a perpetrator may increase the risk faced by women experiencing DFV and children experiencing child sexual abuse.
- While findings from the 2017 National Community Attitudes Survey indicate a high level of mistrust of women’s voices, the reasonable excuse provision in the Bill requires the voices of women experiencing DFV to be trusted.
- Women from diverse backgrounds experiencing DFV face additional barriers to reporting.
In light of this research, the submission makes the following recommendations:
- If the failure to report offence comes into law, it must be accompanied by an extensive and ongoing educational campaign to ensure that all Queenslanders know how to effectively discharge their legal duty
- If the failure to report offence comes into law, the court will need guidance when DFV is involved in child sexual abuse matters to identify when fear from threats or coercive control is present, as well as guidance in the use of a social entrapment framework to assess women’s reasonable excuses for failing to report.
- A social entrapment model needs to be mandated in this legislation in order to understand what constitutes a reasonable excuse for failure to report offences for women affected by DFV.
Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety. (2019). Criminal Code (Child Sexual Offences Reform) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 (Qld) [Submission]. ANROWS.