Law reform body examines sexual offences against young people

The Tasmanian Law Reform Institute (TLRI) is seeking public responses to its latest issues paper Sexual offences against young people.

The Tasmanian Attorney-General asked the TLRI to produce a paper on this issue following a controversial case in which a 12-year-old Tasmanian girl was prostituted by her mother and her mother’s male friend.

The fact that only one of the girl’s many clients was prosecuted gave rise to criticism of both the decision of the Tasmanian Director of Public Prosecutions not to prosecute further, and the law relating to the crime of sexual intercourse with a young person.

The issues paper pays particular attention to the legal defence of mistake as to age to sex offences against young people, namely where a person can defend the charge because they had a mistaken belief that the young person was over the age of consent.

The paper looks at the pros and cons of various options for reform, including introducing a ‘no defence’ age: that is, when a child is below a prescribed age, no defence of consent or mistake as to age can be argued.

TLRI Director Professor Kate Warner, who wrote the issues paper, said that this area of the law was ‘unneccessarily complex and inconsistent in a number of respects’, but that ‘considerable care’ needed to be taken when addressing the issue, as not all child sex offenders and offences are the same.

‘Child-specific sexual offences catch paedophiles in the true sense of the word but they can also, for example, criminalise teenagers for same-age sex,’ Prof. Warner said.

Last month, YFX featured news of a recent ABC Radio National Law Report piece on a related topic, the legal implications of sexting among young people. Those who missed it can read the item here: http://acys.info/yfx/issues/number_188/aprils_news/youth_sexting_and_the_law

The TLRI issues paper Sexual offences against young people can be accessed at: http://www.law.utas.edu.au/reform/reports_publications.htm The TLRI asks for written responses to the paper to be submitted by 29 June 2012.

(Source: University of Tasmania (TLRI) media release, 9 May 2012, viewed 17 May 2012.)

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