Victoria’s sexual offences receive an update

The Victorian Government will shortly bring a Bill before Parliament which seeks to modernise the State’s sexual offences legislation. The Bill will introduce new offences and amend a number of existing sections and definitions. Introductions and amendments include:

. Legislation which applies to indecent acts performed in front of a child via digital technology, as opposed to the existing requirement of physical presence. This amendment aims to capture acts performed over services such as Skype, Facetime and the widely popular Snapchat.

. Broadening the definition of ‘child pornography’ to ‘child abuse material’. This is significant in that it captures material which depicts children as victims of torture, cruelty or physical abuse, irrespective of whether it is of a sexual nature.

. Creating distinct offences of ‘accessing child abuse material’ and ‘distributing child abuse material’. The latter is largely aimed at persons who engage in file sharing and the former closes a defence which could previously be mounted where the accused could establish that they were not aware the material had been downloaded to their computer when viewing it.

. Increasing the maximum penalty for the offence of sexual penetration of a child under the age of 16 from 10 to 15 years.

As criminal lawyers in Melbourne, we would agree that the Bill is required for legislation to remain current and address new circumstances created by ever-changing technology. We have dealt with many cases involving child pornography and navigated the inherent complexities that can be involved with offending over online mediums.

It is intriguing that although digital footprints are left very easily in some respects, an allegation against an accused that they performed an indecent act over a service such a Skype may return to a traditional ‘word on word’ type of Court case, as unless what is depicted is recorded by a participant of the online conversation, there will not be any record of the act itself.