NATIONAL child protection advocate Bravehearts has called for other states to review sentencing laws to ensure appropriate jail terms for child sex offences following a raft of strong measures announced by NSW Premier Mike Baird and Attorney General Brad Hazzard today.
The maximum sentence for sexual intercourse with a child under 10 would be increased from 25 years to life and sentencing guidelines toughened for a range of offences under changes promised by the Baird government if re-elected this month.
A pilot program to employ additional District Court judges and provide them with specialised training to deal with child sexual assault cases will also be introduced. They will tour NSW on circuit, providing faster access to justice for the most vulnerable victims in all corners of the state.
Bravehearts Founder and CEO Hetty Johnston welcomed the measures and says for too long the sentencing of sex offenders has fallen short of community expectations. She says the proposal will enable judges to set non-parole periods to a greater range of offences to help deliver consistent outcomes in line with community expectations.
“A specialised court with trained judges to deal specifically with this crime will hopefully be the end of some of the outrageous sentencing decisions we have seen in the past,” she says.
“Sentencing is a reflection of community expectations and the judiciary must honour that otherwise it just chips away at the integrity of the legislation.
“Let’s not forget that children are at the centre of all of this and the only way to 100 per cent guarantee their safety is by preventing access from dangerous offenders. The only way to ensure that happens is by keeping them in jail.”
NSW Government Attorney General Brad Hazzard echoed Mrs Johnston’s comments and says the Sentencing Council has found standard non-parole periods lead to longer jail terms, particularly for crimes involving sexual violence.
“Confidence in the justice system is undermined when sentences appear out of step with community expectations, which is why the NSW Government requested a Parliamentary Joint Select Committee inquiry into the sentencing of child sexual assault offenders,” he says.
Mrs Johnston also called on the newly elected Queensland Labor Government to reinstitute the Sentencing Advisory Council that was scrapped by the former LNP Government in that state.
“Having a body that reviews and makes recommendations on sentencing legislation and practice is a great oversight mechanism and one that we would like to see reintroduced by the Queensland Government,” she says.
The NSW Government’s proposed package would also further strengthen existing child protection education measures in NSW schools by providing $4 million over four years to deliver a specialised program to children and young people. It follows the state-wide roll-out of Bravehearts ‘Ditto in a Box’ personal safety resource in 2014, set to educate around 195,000 NSW students from kindergarten to Year 2.
“The NSW Government is showing a real commitment to help tackle this crime in a strategic, holistic way and education is a crucial component for kids to be empowered and equipped with the necessary skills to help them stay safe,” says Mrs Johnston.
“Bravehearts looks forward to tendering for this funding in an effort to get our Ditto’s Keep Safe Adventure Show into every school in NSW. The program has now educated almost 450,000 Australian children but there’s a long way to go.”
Other proposals include a ‘Children’s Champions’ initiative where qualified experts support child witnesses through the trial process and advise on appropriate questioning of children; and keeping child witnesses out of the courts by allowing cross examination to be pre-recorded.
Premier Mike Baird says the package will fundamentally improve protections for vulnerable children today and for the future.
“This is about protecting child victims of sexual assault and bringing paedophiles to justice,” he says.
Research shows that a staggering 1 in 5 children (59,000 per year) will be sexually assaulted in some way before their 18th birthday. Bravehearts aims to halve this figure by 2020 with its 3 Piers to Prevention model – Educate, Empower, Protect.
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