Expert calls for law reform after Tas child sex case

A legal expert on child sex crimes argues the Tasmanian case illustrates screaming gaps in the law. Professor Caroline Taylor AM from Edith Cowan University says Australian laws and the way they’re interpreted offer greater protection to sex offenders rather than shielding children from abuse.

MARK COLVIN: One of Australia’s leading legal experts on sexual violence against children says the case in Tasmania illustrates gaping holes in the law.

Professor Caroline Taylor AM is the Foundation Chair in Social Justice at Edith Cowan University.

She told Emily Bourke that Australia’s laws did more to protect perpetrators of sex offences, than the most vulnerable: children.

CAROLINE TAYLOR: As they stand the law negates the protection of children, because it unfairly puts the onus and the burden of proof on the prosecution to prove that these men knowingly thought the child in this case was a consenting adult. So basically it’s a pseudo consent law.

EMILY BOURKE: But isn’t that the fault of the legal system, or indeed the way cases are handled before courts rather than the law itself?

CAROLINE TAYLOR: It’s an issue of how the law is framed and how the law is being interpreted I think.

In certain offences such as traffic offences we argue that ignorance of law is not a defence. But when it’s even more serious about the rape of children, we suddenly interpret it, you can claim ignorance if you claim a defence of the child you believed was an age of consent.

This is a very, very clear case of the law failing to protect a child and has aided and abetted the sexual offending of 100 men against a child and that if we can’t somehow garner urgent reform – I mean the Tasmanian Government should be calling itself together within the next 24 hours and making urgent reform of that kind of law and legislation to ensure that that kind of gap can never ever be relied on ever again.

EMILY BOURKE: Well how do you rephrase or reframe the law?

CAROLINE TAYLOR: What you do is what has been done in other states including Victoria around the law of rape and consent, where arguments have been that the onus should not be on the Crown, the onus should be on the defendant.

If the defendant is going to claim that he believed a 12-year-old was indeed a 17, or an 18-year-old, the onus should be on the defendant to prove that he believed that that child was 17 or 18.

EMILY BOURKE: Is the sort of law reform you’re talking about, is that realistic?

CAROLINE TAYLOR: Absolutely. In Sweden, Iceland and Norway, and South Korea, you can be convicted for buying sex services – that is for buying the services of a prostitute who is a trafficked woman. Now the law requires that if you claim you didn’t know they were trafficked you have to prove that.

What we’ve got Emily, is a stand-off where we say first of all the legal system ill-treats children so badly we don’t want to put them through the system. Secondly we’ve got a law that says these men can fall back on the caveat that they didn’t know and it’s up to the Crown to prove it.

What it means is we have unworkable laws that fail to protect children, we have a legal system that acknowledges that it traumatises children and therefore the loser in every case is children.

We simply have to look at cases like this and other cases where we continually get tied up in law and legislation and a legal process that we know can be so harmful to children that we avoid prosecution for that reason.

And in the end, that’s not a good reason to not prosecute; that’s reason for reform, not for failure to prosecute.

MARK COLVIN: Professor Caroline Taylor from Edith Cowan University, speaking to Emily Bourke.

Original Source.

ECU researcher receives prestigious policing award

Congratulations to the Foundation Chair of Social Justice and Head of the Social Justice Research Centre, Professor Caroline Taylor, who was recently awarded the Australian Institute of Policing Excellence in Research on Improving Policing for Women Award, at the 2010 Excellence in Policing Awards.

The awards ceremony, held at the Marriott Hotel in Brisbane, recognises outstanding contributions to the police force, and is open to nominees from around Australia, News Zealand and the Asia Pacific.

The Excellence in Research award is the only award open to non-police members and recognises research that improves policing and advances the role of women in the police force.

Professor Taylor was thrilled to receive the award, which acknowledged both her recent publications and her work on a large Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Grant with the Victoria Police that aims to improve police response, investigation and management of sex offences.

“I feel very humbled and privileged to conduct research work alongside the police force, and I believe it is important for police and researchers to work together to improve police and criminal justice outcomes for women and children,” said Professor Taylor.

Professor Taylor has recently been contacted by the London Metropolitan Police Force and Canadian Police force to discuss how her research can help improve their own policing methods with regards to sexual violence.

For more information on the Awards, visit the Australian Council of Women and Policing website or contact Professor Taylor on

Read the original article here.

Professor says child sex laws just ‘tinkering’

RECOMMENDATIONS to boost maximum penalties for child sex offences will have little effect on the prevalence of abuse, a Ballarat-based academic said yesterday.

The Victorian Sentencing Advisory Council has recommended that the government raise the maximum penalty, to 25 years’ jail, for those convicted of sexual penetration of a child aged between 10 and 12.

But Edith Cowan University social justice chair Professor Caroline Taylor said that was ineffective “legislative tinkering”.

Under present Victorian law, the maximum sentence for sexual penetration of a child aged between 10 and 16 is 15 years. The same offence against children under 10 carries a 25-year jail term.

“The maximum penalty is rarely, if ever, applied,” she said. “This kind of thing might make it look like we’re going to give tough penalties but if they are not applied, in the long term we are doing more harm.”

“I often feel we tinker with the peripheral areas of legislation without going to the heart of the matter.”

The report, delivered by the advisory council yesterday, followed a request from Attorney-General Rob Hulls in December last year. It found that the average jail term handed to offenders convicted of sexual penetration of a

child under 10 was 3.3 years, whereas those who committed the offence against children aged between 10 and 16 were given an average 2.3 years.

Prof Taylor said such sentences were “very, very inadequate”.

“When you look at the extent of sexual violence, particularly children who have suffered multiple offences over time, and see these absolutely ridiculous sentences, it’s very clear many offenders know a lot people aren’t taking

seriously what they have done,” she said.

“And children internalise the fact that what happens to them isn’t that important.”

Prof Taylor said with current Victorian rates of sexual abuse at one in three girls and one in eight boys, such sentences did nothing to deter repeat offenders.

She called for greater clarity from judges when giving their reasons in sentencing for such crimes.

“We need to understand much better how judges arrive at their sentencing decisions,” she said.

“There is often not a lot of clarity in what they take account of when formulating a response to sexual violence.

“Judges consistently give the lowest possible sentences, even with track records in prior convictions, which is like slapping someone with a wet bus ticket.”

“We need to get far more education about the lifelong damage on children and the cumulative effect this has on them.

Read the full story on The Courier website.

Abuse of trust breeds culture of silence

THE puerile stunt by Sydney radio jocks Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O on Wednesday, in which a 14-year-old girl was strapped to a lie detector and interrogated by her mother about sexual matters, reveals more than just the nation’s shock that the distressed girl disclosed she was raped as a 12-year-old.

The stupidity and crassness of Sandilands and Ms O aside, the incident amplified another more disturbing and sinister aspect of disclosure by children. It is the agony and terror faced by many child victims of sexual violence who find the courage to tell an adult, only to have that adult fail to respond with any shred of justice or decency.

For as this grotesque and cheap radio stunt revealed, the child had previously told her mother of the rape and from all reports, her repeated disclosure appeared to be a source of amusement rather than concern. The adults in this stunt should all be charged with a form of child abuse. In addition to questioning the moral compass that guided the actions of a mother (and radio station for that matter) to subject her child to humiliating and degrading interrogation on live radio, there is the further moral, and even legal, question about a parent ignoring an earlier disclosure by their child.

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The case is a sad but salutary example of the common experience faced by many child victims of sexual violence: telling an adult, often a parent, and having their truth, their terror, their suffering either disbelieved, ignored or used as the basis for punishment.

Delayed disclosure by children, vis-a-vis the rejection of children’s disclosures by adults, are a common feature of child sexual abuse. This fact continues to be a shameful indictment on society. Recent studies here and abroad attest to the currency given to myths and stereotypes that lead adults to disbelieve child and adult victims when they disclose rape and sexual assault. So you can imagine the courage it takes for a child or adult to disclose to an adult they believe they can trust.

Sandilands and Ms O debased themselves and it is likely their posturing and theatrical hand-wringing about their moral culpability will best be tested in the court of public opinion. One can only hope that listeners vote with the radio dial.

However, the foremost action required has to do with the welfare of the child in this case. She is thrice victimised: first by the rape; then by the lack of proper action and care for her initial disclosure to a parent; and then finally on live radio.

Now imagine the cumulative impacts of trauma and distress this girl would have suffered from the rape, the failure to have her disclosure responded to, and the distress and humiliation of interrogation and further disclosure on radio.

While the community retains for a time the appropriate sense of moral repugnancy for the treatment of this child on air and in the privacy of her family home where she no doubt disclosed the rape previously, close your eyes a moment and imagine what it must be like for a child to suffer rape, disclose and have that disclosure ignored or rejected.

Imagine the sense of shame, distress, terror, fear and additional layers of trauma accumulating in the heart, mind and soul of such a child. Now imagine the thousands of children out there experiencing this as we speak, because research tells us the delayed disclosure by children and inappropriate responses to their disclosures by adults are all too frequent realities for many child victims.

Despite her distress, the truth, courage and dignity of this girl is a powerful and exemplary lesson that children continue to be unheard about sexual violence.

Don’t let our collective outrage and moral compass view this repulsive radio stunt as just another example of shock-jock rating grabs. To do so would be to lose a deeper lesson that has the capacity to ennoble our collective character.

If you listen really carefully with your heart you will find that the silence of abused children is in fact our inability to hear. Listen carefully, they are actually crying out to be heard by us.

Professor S. Caroline Taylor is foundation chair in social justice, Edith Cowan University, WA, and founder and chairwoman of Children of Phoenix Org (

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Ballarat academic bound for Interpol conference

BALLARAT-based academic Professor Caroline Taylor will speak at an Interpol conference in France next month.Professor Taylor, who is Edith Cowan University’s Social Justice Unit professorial chair and previously worked at the University of Ballarat, will talk on improving ways police respond to and investigate child sexual abuse cases.

The five-day conference in Lyons is for Interpol’s Specialist Group on Serious Crimes against Children.

Professor Taylor has previously worked with the London Metropolitan Police, Scotland Yard and police in Papua New Guinea and South Africa on child sexual assault issues.

“Quite recently there’s been cutting edge findings particularly around disclosure,” Professor Taylor said.

“It’s about getting a child to disclose what has happened to them and getting that testimony into the legal system.”

She said one of the key issues was what prompted children to disclose sexual abuse, which she said could often be finding out there were other victims or being concerned about the welfare of other children.

“Older children can begin to worry the offender will start abusing others and that can be a real trigger. It can be a real selfless act.”

Professor Taylor said she would also speak on the shame and self-blame victims often felt.

“There are a range of factors police must be aware of when interviewing a child.

“You get better quality evidence if you have an understanding of the life world the child has lived through.

“Disclosure is the most dangerous time, trauma wise, because very often disclosure is crisis driven.

“Police need to act in a way that says ‘we care about your whole welfare here’.”

Professor Taylor, who also gives specialist evidence in court cases, including the recent Brother Robert Best trial, said it was a privilege to be invited to speak at the conference.

“If you get the right researcher, and the empirical evidence to support what the police do and what happens to the victims, then it really improves police practice.

“We need to get children to disclose quickly and get an effective wholistic response because currently it doesn’t happen. “People are disclosing years after the abuse and we know now that sex offenders usually have a huge number of victims, so quick disclosure is the key to unlocking all those other victims.”

Read full article from The Courier.

Victim’s age influences rape prosecutions

PETER CAVE: Groundbreaking Victorian research has found sexual assault victims aged in their twenties and thirties may be less likely to succeed in prosecuting their alleged offenders.

Criminologists have analysed Victoria Police files and found that alcohol use and mental illness may also work against a case succeeding.

Their study is still in its early stages but the researchers are confident their findings will help police forces around Australia and overseas.

From Melbourne, Samantha Donovan reports.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: The researchers have closely analysed the Victoria Police sexual assault files of 96 female victims and nine male victims.

They’ve looked at cases where the offender was successfully prosecuted and others where the case fell apart.

They’ve considered things like the relationship of the alleged offender to the victim, their gender, the location of the alleged assault and whether or not there were any witnesses.

Criminologist Caroline Taylor from Edith Cowan University says victims aged between 31 and 40 seemed to have been less successful in prosecuting their alleged offender.

CAROLINE TAYLOR: But older victims and younger victims, that is those who were reporting offences that occurred at a much younger age, tended to have a more successful outcome and we can’t draw conclusions from that about whether that’s the quality of what police did.

What it may well suggest is that there are a range of characteristics for that age group that unfortunately make investigating these cases very difficult.

We also have to deal with the issue of complaints withdrawn which are often around that age group as well.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Could it be that it’s something to do with the social context that the assault has perhaps occurred? Perhaps it’s been while someone’s been out socialising in a nightclub or a bar or afterwards?

CAROLINE TAYLOR: Well one of the things – one of the characteristics that we looked at in the study was the number of both victims and also offenders who reported alcohol and drugs being an issue at the time of the offence, and so who knows that they – those factors may well make these cases more complex and more difficult to respond to, both for the victim and both for the offender.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: A long delay in reporting an alleged assault also seems to work against a successful prosecution, and Dr Taylor says although she’s aware the criminal justice system is attempting to improve the handling of cases involving victims with a mental disability or illness, this study shows it is a clear barrier to complaints proceeding through the system.

CAROLINE TAYLOR: That can also be issues to do with whether the victim is able to sustain engagement with their contact with the criminal justice system, whether we’re able to – if police are able to find evidence that might support or corroborate what they are saying, and just the usual pressures that come to bear about people accessing the criminal justice system, not only because of their capacity to sustain engagement but unfortunately what we do see is that where people are quite vulnerable, they find it harder to negotiate access with the criminal justice system. And certainly some of the characteristics show that vulnerable victims such as those with a cognitive impairment were not as successful in having their complaint taken all the way through.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Caroline Taylor says she’s grateful for the willingness of Victoria Police to open their files for analysis and says the force is keen to see how the findings can help them improve their handling of cases.

She’s confident the findings will also help other police forces.

CAROLINE TAYLOR: I’ve actually been really pleased that one area of our research, which has been an online victim survey, we have had interest from police in Canada and the UK about this particular survey because it’s quite a unique tool that we developed – it’s a one-off – and they have been interested in having a look at the survey to see whether they could use that in their own jurisdictions, and I’ve also had interest from police in other jurisdictions in Australia to use the survey.

So they’ve been quite – we’ve had good interest in what we’re doing and particularly because the size and scope of the project is very large and has had a sustained focus on sexual violence.

I think it’s going to produce some really useful outcomes for Victoria Police, for police across jurisdictions in Australia and overseas, and enormous assistance to victims which is what the project is about.

PETER CAVE: Dr Caroline Taylor from the Edith Cowan University ending Samantha Donovan’s report.

Full Story and Audio from the ABC website, click here.

Child porn producers closer to home

One of Australia’s leading researchers into child sex abuse says too many parents are focussing on ‘stranger danger’ to try and protect their children. Professor Caroline Taylor says when it comes to child pornography the reality is most children are abused by family members.

Edith Cowan University professor Caroline Taylor has just returned to Australia after being invited to address the 29th World Meeting of Interpol’s Specialist Group.

The group investigates child abuse and child pornography around the globe.

“Lots of people think when children are used in pornography they think of a stranger exploiting a child,” professor Taylor says.

“But the vast majority of child pornography is produced by parents and grandparents…about 80 per cent… it’s huge.”

She says while technology is helping paedophiles exchange child porn, it’s also helping law enforcement officers find and prosecute offenders.

“They’ve solved cases because they’ve been able to blow up images and see what’s in the background, but even so it’s a herculean effort.

“But we have to remember… for every 10 [children] that they might find, there’s around 200,000 that they can’t find.”

Full story and audio interview visit the ABC website.

Christine Nixon APM visited Friends of Phoenix


In 2008 then Commissioner of Victoria Police Christine Nixon APM visited Friends of Phoenix members as our inaugural ambassador.

Christine Nixon Ambassador

Police Commissioner of Victoria Police Christine Nixon AMP with Professor Taylor speaking at the media conference and launch of Christine as our inaugural ambassador held at the Eureka Tower, Melbourne.


Please click the ‘Continue reading…’ button to see photos of Christine Nixon and Caroline Taylor at this significant event for the organisation (Melbourne, 2008).

















Trots night 2009, Ballarat Bray Raceway

Sharon Mudge, owner of Eastwood Vets who sponsored one of the races, at the presentation of the trophy for the winning driver


CT Bear who was a guest on every table at the Trots night and was purchased by many to take home and be a friend and confidant to many children.


Horse Trials in May 2011

“In May 2011 the annual Friends of Ballarat Horse Trials held in Ballarat made CoP the charity of choice. We were delighted with the committee’s decision and thank them sincerely.  Two of our ‘Friends of Phoenix’ Members, Vicki and Phil Biggs, made a stencil of our phoenix logo that we could use a transfer with water-based ink paint on to the sides of horses. As you can see from the photos it looked terrific and was a terrific day for all concerned.


putting the stencil on the competitor’s horse is Phil Biggs, one of our Friends of Phoenix (FoP) members.



Professor Taylor addresses Interpol on child abuse

Professor Caroline Taylor was honored by an invitation to provide a key address at the 29th World Meeting of Interpol’s Specialist Group on Crimes Against Children held at Interpol’s European headquarters in Lyons, France in early September 2011.
The meeting is by invitation only and Professor Taylor presented a key address to the meeting as well as workshop/seminar.  Her paper will be published on Interpol’s intranet site.

Professor Taylor said she felt very privileged to be invited to speak to a world gathering of such dedicated, passionate and specialist police who are devoted to tackling the horrendous crimes of sexual and physical violence, exploitation and trafficking of children around the world. Over 200 Interpol members representing nearly 60 countries attended the World Meeting where interpreters translated presentations into 5 languages.
Professor Taylor was hugely impressed by the ongoing work and projects currently underway by Interpol police whilst acknowledging the challenges that remain.  Interpol police are among the best specialist police practitioners in the world and they work proactively with some of the world’s leading academics in collaborative efforts against the shocking crime of child abuse.

Professor Taylor has been invited to become a part of Interpol’s Specialist Group in her academic role and regards this as a huge privilege to help support and advance the important work and research of this global police organisation.

Professor Taylor at the European Headquarters of Interpol in Lyon, France in September 2011.