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Bill makes sexual offences gender neutral

Bill makes sexual offences gender neutral

All sex offences will be expressed and applied in a gender-neutral manner under Justice Minister Phil Goff's Crimes Amendment Bill No 2, which had its first reading in Parliament today.

"One of the specific aims of this Bill is to ensure all victims of sexual abuse, regardless of their sex or the sex of the offender, are addressed equally under the Crimes Act," Mr Goff said.

"This Bill is the first overall review of sexual crimes in the 1961 Crimes Act. That Act includes offences that date back to 1908, and tends to presume that women are not capable of sexual offending.

"Although the vast majority of sex offenders are male, and the majority of victims female, there is now a widespread expectation that offences should apply regardless of the sex of the offender or the victim, in keeping with the key principle of our society – that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law.

"The most significant impact of this change will be that women will be able to be prosecuted under Section 134 of the Crimes Act for sexual conduct with underage boys. It will not be a defence to argue that the young person consented.

"Offences that currently refer to 'sexual intercourse' will be extended under the Bill to cover all forms of 'sexual connection', in recognition that other types of sexual assault are as grave and intrusive as sexual intercourse.

"At the same time, the penalty for sexual connection with a person 12-16 years will be increased by three years to a maximum of 10 years' jail. The penalty for sexual connection with a child under 12 is up to 14 years' jail.

"One major exception to the gender-neutral principle is the offence of rape, which is a male-against-female offence only and is retained in the new Bill. I propose to invite public submissions on whether the offence of rape should remain or be termed 'unlawful sexual connection', as in the case of like offences."

Mr Goff said other changes included providing a statutory basis for drug rape prosecutions by clarifying that there is no consent when a person has been drugged in order to remove their ability to give consent to sexual connection.

Sexual offences against children will also be simplified into three groupings: sexual conduct with a child under 12, sexual conduct with a child under 16, and sexual assault irrespective of age. The offences will overlap each other to close the loophole that allowed some offenders to escape conviction when the precise age of the child could not be established.

"No defence of consent will be available for offences involving a victim under 12. Only limited defences similar to current defences (e.g. marriage or the age of the accused) will be available in relation to offences against a child under 16," Mr Goff said.

"The 12-month time limit that currently exists on prosecution of some offences involving victims between 12 and 16 will be repealed.

"A new offence of familial sexual abuse, covering all forms of sexual connection, will be introduced to protect those under the age of 18 from abuse of a power relationship. The offence covers a wider range of relationships including foster parents, adoptive parents, guardianship and those related by marriage.

"A revised offence will cover sexual conduct with an intellectually impaired person when consent is induced by exploiting the impairment."

The Bill also facilitates New Zealand's compliance with the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

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