Shine Lawyers welcomes the Queensland Government's efforts to provide greater protection to children from sexual abuse through amendments to the Criminal Code.
The amendments mandate adults in Queensland must report actual or suspected sexual offences against children, with few exceptions. To reduce abuse in institutional settings, information learnt during religious confession regarding sexual offences against children must now be reported to police.
Ending this exemption to mandatory reporting for people in religious ministry was a recommendation of the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse.
“We welcome the new laws that make it every adult’s responsibility to report actual or suspected sexual offences against children. Institutions can no longer hide behind the confessional and must also report to police any information about a sexual offence against a child gained during that process. It sends a clear message that the sexual abuse of children cannot be ignored,” says Leanne McDonald, Abuse Law National Practice Leader.
“We are hopeful that further education about the signs of sexual abuse will encourage more awareness and reporting of the issue, and will in turn save some children from these horrors. It is also imperative to ensure that survivors are supported through this process, and that their choice to report is also carefully considered.”
Here’s how the new laws will work.
What types of child sex abuse must be reported to police?
Under new Queensland laws, from 5 July 2021 an adult who reasonably believes (or should reasonably believe) that a child is being or has been the victim of a child sexual offence must report it to the police, unless they have a reasonable excuse.
Child sexual offences are acts of harm committed against a child, including:
- indecent treatment (performing sexual acts with or in the presence of a child)
- carnal knowledge (sexual intercourse)
- making child pornography or exploitative material
- maintaining a sexual relationship with a child
For the purposes of Queensland abuse laws, a child is considered either someone under 16 or a person under 18 with an impairment of the mind.
What happens if you report child sex abuse to the police?
If you think a child is in immediate danger or a life-threatening situation, call 000.
To report an actual or suspected child sexual offence, call PoliceLink on 131 444.
When calling your details are kept confidential. You can choose to remain anonymous, however it is best to provide your contact details in case an office needs to investigate further.
When making a report, you could be asked questions about:
- the child affected (their name, age, address)
- the child’s family and their contact details
- why you believe or know the child to be experiencing or at risk of experiencing abuse
- the immediate risk to the child.
If you have general concerns about a child’s welfare, you can call:
- your area’s Child Safety Services’ Regional Intake Service (Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm)
- the Child Safety After Hours Service Centre on 1800 177 135 (available outside business hours).
What happens if you don’t report child sex abuse?
The new laws require offences to be reported should the adult have a ‘reasonable belief’ they occurred. Similarly, the adult is not required to report the offence if they have a ‘reasonable excuse’.
What is a reasonable belief?
A reasonable belief is the belief a reasonable person would form in the same position and circumstances.
Examples of when person could be expected to form a reasonable belief include when a child:
- saying they have been sexually abused
- showing signs of sexual abuse.
What is a reasonable excuse?
In the new laws, there’s no set definition of what a reasonable excuse is for not reporting sexual abuse against a child.
Examples of scenarios which may be considered a reasonable excuse include if:
- you have already reported the offence to an appropriate authority or know it has been reported
- you reasonably believe the victim, who is now an adult, does not want the information shared with police
- you believe reporting the offence would endanger you or someone else apart from the alleged offender.
Are there religious exemptions to the mandatory reporting laws?
Confession or similar religious privilege is not considered a reasonable excuse to fail to report under the new laws.
On this point, Queensland joins South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory in passing laws which make it a criminal offence for priests to withhold abuse disclosures.
The change comes following the horrific child abuse unveiled in religious institutions by the royal commission. Many of the abuse survivors who came forward during the commission would go on to make civil legal claims against the institution responsible, some represented by our expert Abuse Law team.
Do you have to report past child sex abuse?
The new laws require anyone who learns information after 5 July 2021 that leads them to reasonably believe a sexual offence was committed in the past to report that information, unless they’ve a reasonable excuse.
It doesn’t matter how long ago the abuse occurred.
If the victim is now over 18, you are still required to report the offence to police, unless you reasonably believe they do not want the information shared with police.
Resources for sexual abuse survivors
Support, advice and information is available to people affected by sexual abuse from:
- Victim Assist Queensland
- Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family Wellbeing Services.
If you or a loved one has suffered from sexual abuse while under the care of an institution like a church, school or government department, our Abuse Law experts may be able to help.
Our lawyers are trained to provide compassionate, considered legal advice to survivors of sexual abuse. We understand the importance of providing legal assistance in a respectful and empathetic manner, especially given the lifelong toll abuse can take.
A successful Abuse Law claim for compensation can allow access to restorative support services like counselling. If you’d like to discuss your situation with one of our lawyers, contact us for a free, confidential consult.
Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: July 19, 2021.