Abuse crime laws must target institutions

9 News
July 20, 2015

Australia is ready for new laws to hold institutions criminally responsible for child sexual abuse, a report says.

In a comprehensive examination of the country's criminal justice system, the sex abuse royal commission says Australian law punishes individual offenders but not organisations.

The report outlines possible new offences to cover organisational criminal liability for institutional abuse, which would make it less likely an organisation could plead that it, too, was a victim of rogue behaviour.

That has been an argument put by some of the churches and charities examined during the commission's 28 public hearings.

In one of the first cases in 2013 the YMCA argued it also was a victim of pedophile Jonathan Lord who abused 12 children while working at a childcare centre in Sydney's south.

The YMCA said Lord groomed its staff as well as the children.

In 2014, Cardinal George Pell told a hearing in Melbourne that the Catholic Church could be compared with a trucking company.

"If a driver sexually assaulted a passenger they picked up along the way, I don't think it appropriate for the leadership of that company to be held responsible."

The report raises the prospect of making it a crime for institutions to be negligent, to fail to protect children, to conceal crimes or even have an institutional child sexual abuse offence.

Criminal trials and sentencing currently fail to recognise organisational and institutional culpability, it says.

But research shows the public would welcome the new laws because the crimes of the powerful have become the subject of greater public concern.

It says research in other jurisdictions shows when business organisations were charged with crimes, offenders came to be seen not as respected members of the business community, but as "bad guys" whose "crimes reflect inordinate greed and a disturbing lack of concern for victims".

While none of these studies directly involves perceptions of institutional child sexual abuse, they are analogous and allow the conclusion to be drawn that the public would support placing responsibility on the institutions in which abuse occurs, the report says.

The report was prepared by Emeritus Professor Arie Freiberg from Monash University, Hugh Donnelly from the Judicial Commission of NSW and consultant criminologist Dr Karen Gelb.

It will be used to inform the commission's final recommendations to the federal government.


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