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Stronger sex offence laws a step closer

Tue, 26 Oct 2004

Stronger sex offence laws a step closer

Women who commit sex offences against children will no longer be able to escape the law when a Bill closing the current loophole is passed, says Justice Minister Phil Goff.

The Law and Order Select Committee reported the Crimes Amendment Bill (No. 2) back to Parliament today, clearing the way for the Bill to be passed through its final stages early next year.

"The Crimes Amendment Bill significantly toughens the law against both males and females who commit predatory sex offences against children and young people under the age of 16," Mr Goff said.

"The maximum penalty for sexual connection with a young person aged between 12 and 16 will be increased by three years, from seven to 10 years' jail. The time limit for prosecuting such offences will also be removed.

"The Bill provides no defence of similarity of age, which is a defence in many western countries. However police practice has been to not seek prosecution when the relationship is consensual and the parties have been of similar age.

"Under existing law, a defence exists where there is a genuine mistaken belief in age which can be proved. Changes are made by toughening the requirement so that the older person must have taken steps to verify the younger person's age. If no such steps were taken, no defence can be claimed.

"The arbitrary age over which this defence could be claimed is also removed as it is contradictory to the Bill of Rights. It does not make sense for one person aged under 21 to be able to claim a defence while another person a few days or weeks older would be automatically guilty despite also having made a genuine mistake.

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"The offence of sex connection with someone under care and protection is broadened into a new offence of familial sexual abuse. This provides protection for young people up to the age of 18 against caregivers with power and authority over them, who exploit that authority to have a sexual relationship with those under their care.

"In line with submissions by CCS, there is no longer a blanket prohibition on people who are intellectually disabled having sexual relationships, as long as their disability is not such that they cannot give or refuse their consent."

Mr Goff said the definition of rape, which is currently a specific male against female offence only, had been given considerable focus by the select committee. In the end, a majority both of submitters and committee members on balance favoured retaining the status quo.

"This is a good Bill which will improve the law's protection for society's most vulnerable against sexual predators, be they male or female. This Bill spent seven months at select committee; was the subject of public submissions, and attracted considerable media attention. It has been given extremely detailed examination," Mr Goff said.

ENDS


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