Monday, April 30, 2012

New legislation seeks to protect child sex victims

Anyone withholding information on a child sex crime faces a minimum five-year jail term under new legislation being drawn up.

The Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill includes most sexual offences along with assault, abduction, manslaughter and murder.

"It is not acceptable that there can be a cloak of secrecy surrounding such offences or offences against other vulnerable persons in our society," said Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

However, parents and professionals can rely on certain defences in cases where the victim of the offence asks that the details are not passed on to the authorities.

"The defences set out in this bill seek to protect the victims of serious offences as much as provide a defence for those who legitimately act in the best interest of the victim," said Mr Shatter.

He said the bill should not deter victims of serious offences from getting the help they needed in addressing the harm done to them.

Mr Shatter confirmed that the planned legislation would apply to priests hearing confession.

The minister said there was no "confessional exception" in legislation introduced in 1998 that placed an obligation on people to report information in relation to serious offences.

Mr Shatter said he could not recall a single incidence in the various reports on clerical abuse where an abuse was admitted in confession and it was kept a secret.

However, there had been "horrendous cases" where young children had been abused in families and where the mothers knew it was going on, but did not report it to anyone.

He said the primary purpose of the proposed legislation is to close off a loophole in the Offences Against the State (amendment) Act 1998 that provides for an offence of withholding information in relation to serious offences but specifically excludes sexual offences.

He said parents could decide not to report child abuse at a certain time, but it must be in the interests of the child’s welfare.

"The 2012 bill will ensure there is an obligation on persons who have knowledge of any serious offence, including sexual offences against children and vulnerable adults, to inform the gardaí," he said.

Mr Shatter said the bill would be published in the Senate.

However, he did not expect it would be enacted until later in the year.

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