SA Bill to Strengthen Child Sex Offences Laws and Increase Penalties

Tuesday 5 October 2021 @ 2.23 p.m. | Legal Research

On 23 September 2021, the Statutes Amendment (Child Sex Offences) Bill 2021 (‘the Bill’) was introduced in the South Australian Legislative Council by Treasurer Rob Lucas (‘the Treasurer’). In introducing the Bill, the Treasurer outlined the Bill’s proposed purpose:

“This Bill strengthens child sex offence provisions and updates our child sex offender registration laws. The Bill will substantially increase the maximum penalties for child exploitation material offences and child grooming offences”.

The Treasurer explained that the South Australian penalties for child sex offences are currently lower than those outlined by the Commonwealth Criminal Code, and thus this Bill proposes to bring the two jurisdictions into alignment.

Removal of "Basic" and "Aggravated" Offence Classes 

Currently in South Australia, child sex offences can be categorised as either “basic” or “aggravated”, with an offence being described as “aggravated” if the victim was a child under the age of 14. This Bill seeks to remove this distinction, and instead introduce “one significant maximum penalty that applies regardless of the age of the child”.

The Treasurer explained the reasoning behind this proposed amendment by suggesting that child sex offences should be acknowledged as having the same level of severity, no matter the age of the victim. The Treasurer clarified the proposed changes:

“This will not soften sanctions for people viewing exploitation material depicting very young children – the new general maximum penalties are higher than the existing aggravated penalties. The Bill makes it clear that exploitation of a child of any age is totally unacceptable”.

The Treasurer noted that the proposed removal of the different classes of child sex offence would have other benefits as well, including:

  • Protection of the mental health of those people who must assess the “heinous material in order to classify the charges”; and
  • Simplification of the charging process “when the exact age of the child … is not readily apparent”.

While the amendments seek to remove the classification of child sex offences according to age, the Treasurer reassured that the age of a victim will remain a relevant consideration when selecting a penalty. What the Bill seeks to ensure is that the law should no longer automatically assume that sex offences against older children should be less severely punished.

No Leniency for Child Grooming Offences 

The Bill proposes to adopt legislation that strictly ensures that child grooming offenders using online spaces should never be allowed leniency in the situation where they are not actually speaking to a child. Commonly, undercover police officers will monitor websites that can be used by offenders to groom children. The Treasurer said that “in many instances, undercover police officers pose online as children and predators attempt to inappropriately and criminally communicate with these fictitious children”. He continued:

“… Offenders should not be given leniency simply because their belief that they were speaking to a real child turned out to be wrong. Their intention and belief at the time of the offending still makes them a danger to real children in the community”.

Along these same lines, the Bill will clarify that with regards to Carly’s Law – which is a law in relation to dishonest communication with children – an undercover police officer appearing as a child online would still be included in the definition of “child”, where the offender believes they are speaking to a child.  

The Treasurer emphasised that the amendments within the Bill have been proposed with the ultimate dual goal of achieving parity with the Commonwealth, and meeting the seriousness of child sex offences with stronger penalties and stricter laws.

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Statutes Amendment (Child Sex Offences) Bill 2021 (SA), Bill and explanatory materials available from TimeBase's LawOne service. 

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