New research has found that one in three perpetrators convicted of maintaining inappropriate intimate relationships with children over the past 16 years were involved in acts of domestic and family violence.
The independent report compiled by the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council (QSAC) also reveals that almost a quarter (23.8%) of more than 900 people convicted of maintaining a sexual relationship with a child in the period 2005-21 proclaimed their innocence throughout the legal process.
QSAC Chair John Robertson, a former Childrens Court President who served as a District Court judge for almost 25 years, said the sentencing review highlighted one of Queensland’s most serious criminal offences against children, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
The council’s ‘Sentencing Spotlight on maintaining a sexual relationship with a child’ report found that men were the perpetrators in 98% of the 801 convictions studied, receiving an average jail term of 7.4-years.
It also found that a staggering 36.5% of cases constituted offences of domestic violence.
When releasing the report earlier this month, Mr Robertson acknowledged community calls for the actual name of the offence to be changed so as not to further traumatise or offend victims and survivors.
“Maintaining an unlawful sexual relationship with a child involves committing more than one unlawful sexual act against a child over a period of time,” Mr Robertson said.
“The level of lasting harm this offence causes children is immeasurable, which is why it can attract a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and is the most likely offence to be declared as a serious violent offence.”
Mr Robertson said the report’s release was timely as it coincided with recent calls by the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce – headed by former Queensland Court of Appeal President the Honourable Margaret McMurdo – for the Government to review the language used to identify the offence.
QSAC, which was first established in December 2010, dismantled under an LNP Government in 2012 and reconstituted in November 2016, was established to provide independent research and advice, seek public views and promote community understanding of sentencing matters.
Other data collected for the QSAC Sentencing Spotlight shows that every person convicted of the offence received terms of imprisonment – with more than one in five receiving jail stints of 10 years of more.
Under current Queensland law, anyone sentenced to 10 or more years for this offence is required to spend at least 80% of their term in custody.
Mr Robertson said: “There are a number of factors considered for the actual sentence handed down by the courts.
“These include the vulnerability of the victim, the nature and duration of offending, and the relationship between the offender and the victim.”
While almost all offenders were male (98%) with an average age of 38, 16 of the cases reviewed by the council involved female offenders.
QSAC also found the duration of offending against children varied greatly from less than a year up to 13 years. The average duration for the length of offending was three years.
“To prove the offence of maintaining, it does not matter whether the offending took place over a brief period or was sustained over several years,” Mr Robertson said. “A jury only needs to be satisfied that more than one unlawful sexual act occurred between the adult offender and child victim.”
This captures a wide range of acts, including those that can be charged as carnal knowledge with, or of, children under 16, incest, rape and indecent treatment of children under 16.
The council’s ‘Sentencing Spotlight on maintaining an unlawful sexual relationship with a child’ is the latest report in the Sentencing Spotlight series, which presents Queensland-specific data on sentencing outcomes for a variety of different offences.
Read QSAC Sentencing Spotlight report.