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.