Yesterday (21 August 2014), the Victorian Parliament introduced the Crimes Amendment (Sexual Offences and Other Matters) Bill 2014 (the Bill), which reforms the law relating to sexual assault and rape; changes the law in regards to child sexual offences and offers a new defence for children against sexting charges.
The Bill will make Victoria's sexual offence laws clearer, simpler and fairer by making various amendments to the definitions of key indictable sexual offences (including rape), removing redundant marriage exceptions to sexual offences against children, removing time limits on the prosecution of certain former sexual offences against children, introducing certain exceptions to child pornography offences for minors, and creating two new summary offences concerning distribution of intimate images. The Bill will also provide for a 'course of conduct' charge for multiple incidents of sexual offending and other specified offences (e.g. fraud-related offences).
The Bill amends the following legislation:
The Bill is also notable in Australia as Victoria has become the first jurisdiction to directly address the distribution of intimate images or "sexting", especially among children, and the subsequent criminal record it now implies.
The two new offences of distributing, or threatening to distribute, an intimate image, at clause 25 of the Bill, promote the protection of a person's privacy and reputation while protecting the right to freedom of expression where an adult has consented to the distribution of their intimate image. The consent exception does not apply to children due to their greater vulnerability and need for protection.
Attorney-General Robert Clarke said:
“The two new summary offences send a clear message that the malicious use of intimate images to embarrass and denigrate a victim is unacceptable and a criminal offence.”
The new laws will also ensure that young people who receive or send raunchy but non-exploitative sexts are spared from child pornography offences and being placed on the sex offenders register. The changes are recommendations of a parliamentary inquiry that was triggered by reports in The Sunday Age of young people whose career prospects were ruined after they were caught with intimate images and placed on the register.
Young people under 18 who create, possess or distribute a sext of themselves or another child who is less than two years younger will not be guilty of a child pornography offence. But this will not apply to images that capture a criminal offence such as a sexual assault, and the exceptions will not apply to adults. Under previous laws, sexts were classified as child pornography when they depicted people under 18, even when the subject of the photo took the image and willingly sent it to others.
Attorney-General Robert Clarke commented:
“It is important that the law keeps up with rapid changes in the use of technology, and that we ensure young persons aged under 18 are not inappropriately prosecuted or added to the sex offenders register for consensual, non-exploitative sexting.”
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Crimes Amendment (Sexual Offences and Other Matters) Bill 2014 as reproduced in TimeBase LawOne
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