A Victorian government report into child sexual abuse has recommend sweeping changes to laws to protect children, including new offences of grooming a child or their family and failing to report abuse. 

Premier Denis Napthine has said the government would act quickly to draft legislation in response to the Victorian Parliament’s Family and Community Development Committee Betrayal of Trust report.

The report’s recommendations cover five important areas: changes to the criminal law; easier access to the civil justice system; an independent, alternative avenue for justice; greater independent monitoring and scrutiny of organisations; and further improvements to

prevention systems and processes.

The Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart released a statement shortly after the report stating the Catholic Church in Victoria welcomed the findings.

The committee, which consisted of 6 members of parliament, received 486 submissions and held 33 public hearings between October 2012 and June 2013.

In the opening remarks of the report, Chairwoman, Ms Georgie Crozier MP said:

“The criminal abuse of children is unacceptable in any form. It symbolises a departure from morals that are the touchstone of our humanity and our society”

The report found the overwhelming majority of children participating in activities in religious and other non-governmental organisations or who are cared for by staff in those organisations are safe and derive great benefit from their involvement.

However, the report details the incidence of criminal child abuse “in some of society’s most trusted and respected institutions and organisations”

The report acknowledged that criminal child abuse has profound and lifelong consequences for the physical, psychological and emotional wellbeing of victims and their parents.

During hearings (many conducted in camera) victims detailed horrendous and traumatic experiences while in the care of non-government organisations.

The committee heard many victims were not given the basic level of respect they expected and deserved. The Committee found that organisations often did not assume responsibility for the harm victims had suffered and sometimes even concealed the truth.

The Committee reported that the majority of evidence from victims indicated that between the 1950s and 1980s the response of specific organisations to criminal child abuse was seriously inadequate and sometimes non-existent, particularly in religious organisations.

Proposed reforms

The Committee made the following reform recommendations to the sector and to the Victorian Parliament.

The Committee emphasised the importance of organisational leaders developing cultures that protect children from criminal abuse. Requirements for organisations to manage “situational risks”, developing child safe policies with zero tolerance for child abuse and clear processes for reporting breaches were proposed by the Committee.

Reforms to the criminal law have been recommended, including creating an offence of:

  • “grooming” of a child or the child’s family,

  • “child endangerment”-imposing criminal responsibility where a person in authority, intentionally or recklessly fails to protect a child from harm or abuse, and

  • “failing to report a serious indictable offence against a child”.

It has been recommended that limitations on time frames for victims to commence civil proceedings be abolished.

The Committee found that the current internal processes used by organisations to resolve complaints of sexual abuse does not meet the needs of victims in achieving justice and has recommended the creation of an independent, alternative tribunal to be funded by the catholic churches and non-government organisations.

The report represents extremely important work by the Victorian Parliament. The Committee’s recommendations should ensure that the scourge of institutional criminal child abuse is not repeated in Victoria.

You may read Executive Summary here.