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New Sex Offence Laws


 More than 50 sexual offence laws will be overhauled, including a change that will mean those who share images on mobile phone applications such as Snapchat can be charged with committing an indecent act in the presence of a child.

The reforms are in response to a state government review that found Victoria's sexual offences laws were complex, inconsistent and unclear, and further traumatised victims while failing to hold offenders to account.

The overhaul, to be announced on Tuesday, was designed to address concerns that reforms in 2007 had not done enough to make the justice system fairer for victims of sexual abuse.

The final changes implemented as part of the six-year overhaul will:

 Introduce new offences of distributing and accessing child abuse material, both of which have maximum penalties of 10 years' imprisonment.

 Increase the maximum penalty for the offence of sexual penetration of a child under the age of 16 from 10 to 15 years' imprisonment.

 Better protect people with a mental illness or cognitive impairment who are vulnerable to coercion or abuse.

 Replace the term "child pornography" with "child abuse material" to reflect the "nature and harm caused by the material".

 Change sexual servitude, loitering, and incest offences to make them less complex.

Attorney-General Martin Pakula‚Äč said current laws were in some instances unworkable, and had led to retrials and appeals.

"Many of our current sexual offence laws are incomplete, too complex and use outdated language," Mr Pakula said.

"These amendments will make our laws clearer and better understood, assisting juries in criminal trials.

"This is a comprehensive overhaul of the state's sexual offence laws to keep Victorians safe."

The offence of committing an indecent act in front of a child currently only applies if the child is physically present with the offender. But under the changes, offences committed using the internet will also apply.

Those who use Snapchat, Skype, or other online video chat applications to offend can be charged under the changes.

Using the term "child abuse material" rather than "child pornography" brings Victoria in to line with federal law, with the Australian Federal Police finding that the use of the term "pornography" could legitimise the viewing and creation of images and videos of children being harmed.

It also means that images of a child being tortured or as the victim of cruelty will be classified as child abuse material, regardless of whether the abuse is also sexual.

It is the first significant change to child pornography laws since they were introduced in 1995.

A new offence of "distributing child abuse material" will apply where a person intentionally distributes this material, as existing law had not recognised that uploading a file to a file-sharing website, an email account, or in a chat room as an offence.

The "accessing child abuse material" law to be introduced closes a loophole which means that an offender can escape charge for viewing this material if it cannot be proved they knew it had been downloaded to their computer when they viewed it.

The offence will apply to intentional viewing of child abuse material, including on phone applications such as Snapchat.

Mr Pakula said the changes meant it would be easier for police to charge those who were increasingly using mobile phones to commit sexual offences.

"We're giving police the legislative changes they need to deal with offences that are increasingly taking place through modern technologies," he said.

An offence of "encouraging a child to engage in sexual activity" will be broader than "grooming" law, and applies when an adult seeks or gets arousal from coercing a child.

The Department of Justice said in 2013 that the overhaul was well overdue.

"It is clear that significant changes are required to improve our laws so that they reflect community understanding of key issues, such as what constitutes rape, and to bring our laws up to date with modern technology which enables new ways for offences to be committed," secretary Greg Wilson said at the time.

"Sexual offence laws are too complicated, as are the directions given to juries. Removing or reducing this complexity is no easy task."

The Centres Against Sexual Assault have previously praised the government for the reforms and the consultative process.

(reproduced from the Law Institute News)

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