Child sexual abuse survivors push for tougher cover up penalties
Angela Lavoipierre reported this story on PM ABC Local Radio
MATT WORDSWORTH: There are several laws designed to punish the perpetrators of child sex abuse. But what about those who fail to report them?
There’s a new push in New South Wales to create a specific offence of failing to report child sexual abuse, with harsh prison sentences attached to it.
The New South Wales Government is considering the proposal, as Angela Lavoipierre reports.
ANGELA LAVOIPIERRE: Peter Gogarty has a personal stake in a change to the law on child abuse cover ups.
PETER GOGARTY: My personal story goes back to the early 1970’s and I myself was abused by a Catholic priest. He was found out in around about the year 2000.
He subsequently died in jail, but I think what started becoming increasingly apparent to me was that there were more than just him out there. There were more and more of these paedophile priests in particular.
And it seemed to me that it was way too convenient that people in high places in the Catholic church and we’ve subsequently seen not just the Catholic church.
But they were all pretending they didn’t know anything about it. Well, the Royal Commission has clearly demonstrated that this has been well known for decades.
ANGELA LAVOIPIERRE: Peter Gogarty is among a group of people in New South Wales asking the Government to make a change
He says while concealing an indictable offence is already illegal, the existing law is very rarely applied in child sexual abuse cases.
PETER GOGARTY: There is one in NSW which is a fairly general law, but in the 30 odd years, coming up to 40 years I think that it’s been in place, there’s not been a single conviction for any person in any institution who knew that they had paedophiles in their midst.
I think you’re right, I think the general population would be mortified to think that these people, people in churches, in schools, in scout groups, knew that they had people, their colleagues molesting kids and there was no obligation for them to go to the police.
ANGELA LAVOIPIERRE: Even if the law was to be applied, he argues the existing penalty, a maximum of two years in prison, isn’t harsh enough.
PETER GOGARTY: Molesting a child is a serious, indictable offence. I think if you know that that’s happening and you do nothing about it, then that also should be a serious indictable offence.
Because potentially, you are letting that perpetrator go on to molest more kids, for as long as they live.
And instead of that being one child it could be dozens.
ANGELA LAVOIPIERRE: Peter Gogarty has met with the New South Wales Attorney General Mark Speakman this week, to make his case.
With him was Bob Cotton, a minister from the Maitland Christian Church in the New South Wales Hunter Valley.
BOB COTTON: Well I hope it would be a pathway to integrity being restored within the church and public confidence within the church being restored.
Because currently at this point in time, we’ve lost any right that we might have thought we had with the moral high ground.
ANGELA LAVOIPIERRE: Bob Cotton’s church is part of the Australian Christian Churches denomination, formerly known as the Assemblies of God.
He admits it’s a controversial idea with some religious leaders
BOB COTTON: Well yes, but there’s only one right course of action.
I mean as Christian people and particularly as Christian leaders, we’re really dictated to in the scriptures to speak up for those who can’t speak up for themselves and to protect the innocent and the vulnerable and this hasn’t been the case.
We’ve really betrayed our calling.
ANGELA LAVOIPIERRE: He hopes if a new law is introduced that it’s applied to old cases as well as new ones
BOB COTTON: That that would be the whole point of it because these people as I say, have really betrayed their calling, betrayed the responsibility that they have to the community and to the innocent and so they should face criminal charges.
ANGELA LAVOIPIERRE: The detail of any new legislation, if it goes ahead, is yet to be hashed out. Peter Gogarty agrees it would need to be nuanced.
PETER GOGARTY: The average time taken for a victim to come forward, if they ever come forward I think, is somewhere between 25 and 30 years.
And I certainly wouldn’t want any survivor being prosecuted for not dobbing in their own perpetrator or somebody in the hierarchy who they may have gone to.
But I think you can do that, there are protections that you can put into legislation.
ANGELA LAVOIPIERRE: After many months pursuing the cause, he says he feels vindicated by having come this far.
PETER GOGARTY: Survivors of child abuse all cope in their own ways.
For me, coping with my own history, means that I have to be part of the solution.
While ever I draw breath, I need to make sure that we get justice for past victims, we get accountability from the people who perpetrated the crimes or let the crimes happen and that we never have this happen to any child in the future.
This is not going to happen on my watch.
ANGELA LAVOIPIERRE: In a statement, the New South Wales Attorney General Mark Speakman said he’s sought advice from the Department of Justice about Mr Gogarty’s proposal, and that it “warrants serious consideration.”
MATT WORDSWORTH: Angela Lavoipierre reporting.