Failure to Report Abuse and Protect Children Should be a Crime: Royal Commission

By Andrew Heaton

(image source: Right Now)

Failure to either report instances of suspected child abuse within institutions or to take necessary action to prevent an instance of child abuse from happening should be made a criminal offence, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses Into Child Abuse has recommended.

But it did not recommend any new criminal offenses targeted at the institutions themselves.

In its Report on Criminal Justice, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has made 85 recommendations which it says will better protect children who come into contact with institutions.

Under one such recommendation, a new offence would make it a crime to report actual or potential child abuse to police where it is known, suspected or should have reasonably been suspected that a child within an institution had been or was being sexually abused by an adult within that institution.

The offense would apply to any manager, employee, volunteer or person who otherwise requires a Working with Children Check clearance for their role.

It would apply within relevant institutions including those who provide services to children or operate facilities used and where the children are in the care, supervision or control of the institution in question.

This would extend to religions confessions, meaning that clergy would not be able to refuse to report because the information was received during confession.

Foster carers and kinship carers would be exempt.

In addition, the Commission also recommended that a further criminal offence be introduced where a person who knows that there is a risk of a child being abused within an institution and has the power or responsibility to either reduce or remove that risk either acts negligently or otherwise fails to remove or reduce the risk in question.

Again, the offense would apply to organisations or institutions who provide services to children and have children who are under their supervision, control or care.

It would be modelled on similar laws already in place in Victoria.

Again, foster carers would be exempt.

Other recommendations include reforms to policy and prosecution responses, evidence of complaints, sentences and appeals and the introduction of a new grooming offence.

But no new criminal offenses would be enacted against institutions – the Commission saying that the focus of governments, institutions and regulators should be to improve standards, practices and oversight and that the introduction of new criminal offences was neither necessary nor helpful in doing this.

The final report of the Commission is expected to be delivered in September.

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