Child Sex Abuse: Criminally Liable Institutions Could Be Ordered to Pay Compensation

By Jane Lee
Sydney Morning Herald
July 17, 2015

New crimes might include negligently being responsible for child sexual abuse and negligently failing to remove a risk of child sexual assault, the report said. Photo: Dmitri Maruta

Courts could order institutions held criminally responsible for child sexual abuse to compensate victims, a report says.

The report, published on the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse's website on Friday, said organisations should be held criminally liable for abuse perpetrated by people linked to them, because targeting only offenders did not offer victims complete justice.

The criminal justice system focused only on individual offenders, with sentences varying in different states and territories, it said. This failed to recognise organisations' contribution to the problem.

The report also criticised the "swathes of laws to extend the custody of sex offenders and restrict their activities and movements" such as detention orders and extended supervision, saying they were aimed more at quelling public fears than at reducing crime.

"An organisation should be held criminally responsible for the creation, management and response to risk when it has materialised in harm to a child," the report's co-authors, criminologists Professor Arie Freiberg, Karen Gelb and Hugh Donnelly, said.

The president of the royal commission, Justice Peter McClellan, flagged on Wednesday that he was considering the report's findings ahead of its publication.

New crimes could capture a wide range of organisations and people associated with them, not just employees. They might include negligently being responsible for child sexual abuse and negligently failing to remove a risk of child sexual assault.

They could also carry penalties, including court orders, that required institutions to compensate victims, or to appoint, remove or train certain staff, to prevent future abuse.

Most of the orders for sex offenders were rarely used and many were based on myths and misconceptions about them.

"Despite the commonly held view that most sex offenders will reoffend after sentencing, the evidence does not support this," the report said.

"Research based on official reports of offending and self-reports of offenders consistently shows that sex offenders typically have lower rates of recidivism following sentencing than other types of offender, and these rates vary for different sub-groups of sex offender."

The report said lengthening "already high maximum penalties" for offenders would not necessarily make a difference to crime rates or the way judges punished offenders.

Victims took about 22 years on average to report abuse, which made it difficult for many cases to get to the point of prosecution: "Attrition rates are very high and, accordingly, very few offenders are held to account, and only a small number of victims ever feel vindicated through this process."

Lawyer Angela Sdrinis, who specialises in child sexual abuse cases, said she generally supported creating crimes for organisations, saying they were "part of the solution."

She said a mechanism should be included that would allow victims to apply to sentencing judges for compensation from the institution to overcome current barriers that made it difficult for victims to sue organisations for abuse.

Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia are currently the only states that offer such applications.








Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.