Response to consultation paper – National Public Register of Child Sex Offenders
This response to the Consultation Paper is provided by the Daniel Morcombe Foundation Inc. The Daniel Morcombe Foundation supports the call for an evidence based nationally consistent Public Register of Child Sex Offenders. This National Register is recommended alongside a comprehensive approach to reducing recidivism and preventing child sexual abuse.
Please note that Bruce and Denise Morcombe and the Morcombe Family personally have publicly supported and advocated for the development of a public sex offender register in Australia. Bruce and Denise Morcombe’s call for the public register is sometimes referred to as Daniel’s Law.
Daniel Morcombe Foundation Inc. key issues to consider:
To meet the goals of reducing recidivism and preventing child sexual abuse a comprehensive approach is required. This involves adults being more aware of the risks and signs of child sexual abuse; education for children and families; sex offender treatment programs in the community and prisons; parole and community supervision and other interventions. A national public register of child sex offenders could potentially play one part of a larger national approach if its implementation is evidence based and takes into account the complexity of causes and contexts that lead to sexual offending against children.
There is evidence to suggest that public sex offender registers do not generally prevent convicted sex offenders from re-offending but may provide a small deterrent to those who have not yet been convicted. (Napier, Dowling et al 2018)
The perception of feelings of safety within communities who have access to public sex offender registries is also complex. There is a lack of clear evidence suggesting that this measure alone, reduces fear in a community. Providing parents and carers with support to implement personal safety education and talk to their children about being safe is equally important.
There is a pressing need for consistency between Australian states and territories in the management of non-public sex offender registries. In terms of legislative changes and timeframes for implementation it would be crucial that this is rectified prior to the development of a public sex offender register.
Types of offenders:
It is important to understand that 10% of children who experience sexual abuse are assaulted by a stranger. (ABS 2016) The majority of children are assaulted by a family member or acquaintance.
Offenders that target family members are the least likely to reoffend. (Hanson and Morton-Bourgon 2005). A public register of child sex offenders may potentially be more effective if it focused on those that are the most likely to reoffend. The defining of the terms such as ‘serious, multiple or repeat’ would also be important when determining who would appear on a national public register and for how long.
There needs to more clarity about juvenile sex offenders and the types of offences that would legitimise inclusion in a public sex offender register after the age of 18 years. The potential impacts for a young person of having their name included in a public sex offender register are many. Most children or young people that engage in harmful sexual behaviour with other children do not go on to become adult offenders and with appropriate behavioural and therapeutic support pose no threat to the community. Stigmatising children and labelling them as offenders does not keep the community safe. The current legislation includes the sending of ‘sexts’ as the production of child exploitation materials, whether this is consensual or not. Many young people who engage in this behaviour are over the age of consent for sexual activity. Although not technically legal, there are also many young people who are engaging in consensual sexual relationships when they are under the age of 16 years. In determining criteria for inclusion on a public sex offender register it is recommended that a national approach be developed in legislation related to young people and sexual offences.
The information about sex offenders suggested in the preliminary model for consultation is appropriate. The public inclusion of specific addresses of offenders presents a further level of complexity and management and may not serve any additional benefit. This information is available to law enforcement and can be used as necessary in this context for monitoring and surveillance, as it already is. There would need to be extremely effective national data management processes in place to ensure accuracy and that the publication of offender identities does not adversely impact or identify victims. There is no clear information in the preliminary model that outlines timeframes for how long offenders would stay on the public register however taking into account risk profiles and monitoring requirements may determine length of times. Not all offenders present the same level of risk to the community.
How to measure effectiveness:
It is recommended that academic rigour be applied to determine whether a national public register is the approach that will best meet the stated objectives. Determining efficacy of already existing programs in Australia, such as in Western Australia and South Australia may also assist in the development of an effective national model. Once established ongoing monitoring and independent evaluation would be required.
The Daniel Morcombe Foundation welcomes the opportunity to join a Reference Group regarding the National Public Register of Child Sex Offenders as this consultation process continues. We again thank you for the opportunity to contribute.
Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016. Recorded Crime Victims, Australia, 2015. ABS cat. no. 4510.0. Canberra: ABS. http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4510.0
Hanson RK & Morton-Bourgon KE 2005. The characteristics of persistent sexual offenders: A meta-analysis of recidivism studies. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Studies 73(6): 1,1541,163
Napier S, Dowling C, Morgan A & Talbot D. 2018. What impact do public sex offender registries have on community safety?. Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice No. 550. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. https://aic.gov.au/publications/tandi/tandi550