Two survivors of child sexual abuse and a Christian pastor have teamed up to campaign for changes to punishment for people who cover up child sex offences.
Paul Gray (who was abused by Anglican minister Peter Rushton in Cessnock in the 1960s) and Peter Gogarty (a victim of East Maitland Catholic priest James Fletcher) have joined forces with Pastor Bob Cotton from Maitland Christian Church.
The trio want to see harsher punishments for people who fail to report child sex abuse to police, and that those laws become retroactive – punishing people by the law of today, rather than the time of their offence.
They have met with NSW MPs from both major parties and hope they will gain bipartisan support for their call.
The men concur that the current penalty for ‘conceal serious indictable offence’ – a maximum of two years’ imprisonment – is not strong enough to convince people to come forward.
And they say the recent Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse public hearings in Newcastle have shone a spotlight on a culture of covering up that has been going on for several decades.
Pastor Cotton said he would like to see NSW create a new offence called “failure to disclose a child sexual offence”, as Victoria introduced in 2014.
Under that law, an adult who has information that leads them to form a reasonable belief that a sexual offence has been committed in Victoria against a child by another adult must tell police as soon as it is practicable, unless they have a reasonable excuse.
“We want to see an obligation to report, and a penalty if you don’t,” Pastor Cotton said.
“We’ve got to give the judges the tools to sentence these people appropriately.
”As soon as you know someone has been abused, it has to go to the police.”
Pastor Cotton said retroactivity is key: “The sentence should fit the crime,” he said.
Mr Gogarty said if such laws were in place when he was a child, it could have changed his life.
“Maybe I could have gotten help then and there,” he said.
”It’s critical that the government does something about it.
“What would you think (not only) if someone was abusing your child, but if someone knew and didn’t do anything about it?”
Mr Gogarty said he has “nothing but contempt” for people who cover up child sex offences to protect their institution.
“Vulnerable kids are let suffer by institutions that have given themselves a higher place in the world,” he said.
“They have thrown the kids to the wolves to protect their own image.”
Mr Gray, who gave an emotional address to the public hearing in August, said concealing child sex abuse was a serious crime and penalties needed to reflect this.
“It is time to get serious about the people who are aware of children being raped and at best take no action, and at worse allow it to continue in order to protect their position or an organisation,” he said.
“If people in positions of trust are aware that they too will go to jail for covering up abuse, then the rate of abuse would be reduced dramatically.”
Mr Gray said society, not the church itself, should judge what happens to the offenders.
“We’ve got to protect the children,” he said.
”If we can get this law into place, it’s going to change things for the future.
“The Royal Commission shone a spotlight on it, and now it’s time for the community to demand change.”
The Royal Commission has released a consultation paper into criminal justice issues and is taking public input on various issues – including whether there should be a criminal offence in relation to failure to report crime.
Submissions are due on October 31 and can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.