New laws to compel adults to report child abuse or face jail

The ACT Government

A new law will make it a crime for any adult in Canberra not to report suspected child sexual abuse, including priests who learn of offences through hearing confessions. Source: ABC News.

ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said the offence — with a penalty of up to two years in prison — would apply to all Canberrans, because child abuse did not only occur within institutions.

“We have a responsibility, the whole of the community has a responsibility, to make sure our children are safe,” Mr Ramsay said.

The obligation to report would be simpler than mandatory reporting schemes that previously covered professions like teachers and health staff.

Under the new laws if an adult believed, on reasonable grounds, that a child had suffered sexual abuse it would become criminal not to report that to police.

Mr Ramsay will today introduce legislation to create the new offence, which will also extend to the Church’s confession booth.

But the ACT Government’s own report into the issue recommended including confessionals would have little impact on detecting or prosecuting child sexual abuse.

The new crime appears to put clergy into an impossible position: report child abuse and be immediately excommunicated under canon law, or not report abuse and be imprisoned under Australian law.

Judge Julie Dodds-Streeton’s report suggested the new offence would turn up very few cases from the confession booth.

“In our opinion, the imposition of an obligation to report child sexual abuse ... is unlikely to result in many detections of, or successful prosecutions for, either child sexual abuse or breaches of the reporting obligation itself,” Justice Dodds-Streeton wrote.

“Where sexual abusers of children are Roman Catholics who would otherwise attend confession, they will probably avoid confession altogether.”

By placing institutional abuse within its larger context, the child abuse royal commission made the prevention and identification of child sex offending a collective responsibility.

Canberra-Goulburn Catholic Archbishop Christopher Prowse said while he supported mandatory reporting laws, there could be "no reasonable expectation" that forcing priests to break the seal of confession would make people safer and urged the government to reject the new measures.

He said even the review found doing so was unlikely to result in many detections of, or successful prosecutions for, either child sexual abuse or breaches of the reporting obligation itself.


Canberrans suspecting child sexual abuse must soon report it to police or face being charged (ABC News)

All adults must report child sex abuse or face jail, under new laws (The Canberra Times

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