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Govt strengthens protection against predators

Government strengthens protection against predators

Legislation passed in Parliament today toughens penalties for sexual offending, widens protection against sexual predators and makes sexual offences gender neutral, says Justice Minister Phil Goff.

"Passage of the Crimes Amendment Bill No 2 ensures that all victims of sexual abuse, regardless of their sex or the sex of the offender, now have equal protection under the law," Mr Goff said.

"Ensuring that sex offences are expressed and applied in a gender-neutral manner meets the fundamental principle that everyone should be equal before the law. In particular, it means females can now be prosecuted for having sexual relationships with boys aged under 16.

"The legislation extends offences that currently refer to 'sexual intercourse' to cover all forms of sexual connection, in recognition that all forms of sexual violation are as grave and intrusive as sexual intercourse. All such offences are subject to the same penalty, and should be treated by our Courts as equally serious in terms of the sentences imposed.

"Society's most vulnerable groups now have significantly stronger protection against predatory conduct. The maximum penalty for sexual connection with a young person aged 12-16 is raised from seven years to 10 years' jail, while the existing 12-month time limit on bringing a prosecution is removed. The penalty for sexual connection with a child under 12 is up to 14 years' jail.

"In addition, a new offence of sexual grooming, carrying a maximum penalty of seven years' jail, is created to protect young children from habitual sexual offenders who identify and then cultivate relationships with potential victims. The new offence will ensure that people grooming children for sexual abuse can be prosecuted before the actual abuse takes place.

"By clarifying the circumstances that do not amount to consent, there is now stronger protection for those who are vulnerable because they cannot give or refuse that consent. This includes strengthening the position of the law in relation to drug rape, as well as those vulnerable due to mental impairment.

"The offence of incest has also been extended. A new offence of familial sexual abuse, covering all forms of sexual connection, will 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.

"This legislation is a key part of the Government's overall agenda against the exploitation of children. It sends the unequivocal overall message to any paedophile that their predatory behaviour will not be tolerated.

"We have already introduced post-sentence extended supervision of up to 10 years for child sex offenders. We have made it easier for judges to impose preventive detention. We have also passed new censorship laws to increase by ten times the penalties for dealing in child pornography.

"This legislation adds further to the protections for children and the penalties facing those sexual predators who would abuse them," Mr Goff said.

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