In April 2012, the Victorian Government initiated a landmark inquiry into the handling of child abuse allegations within religious and other non-government organisations.
The inquiry’s final report, Betrayal of Trust (External link) was tabled in Parliament on 13 November 2013 and contained 15 recommendations. The Victorian Government tabled its response on 8 May 2014 giving support or in-principle support to all of the recommendations. Work to implement the Victorian Government’s response is well underway. This work falls into three categories:
- criminal law reform
- creating child safe organisations
- civil law reform
While this work continues, the Victorian Government will also follow closely and engage with the national Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (External link) and consider any relevant findings and recommendations made.
Criminal law reform
The first priority of the Victorian Government has been the immediate safety of children. The Victorian Government has introduced three new criminal offences to further protect children from abuse.
The three new offences are:
- a grooming offence which targets communication, including online communication, with a child or their parents with the intent of committing child sexual abuse
- a failure to disclose offence that requires adults to report to police a reasonable belief that a sexual offence has been committed against a child (unless they have a reasonable excuse for not doing so)
- a failure to protect offence that applies to people within organisations who knew of a risk of child sexual abuse by someone in the organisation and had the authority to reduce or remove the risk, but negligently failed to do so.
All allegations of child abuse are investigated by the Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams (SOCITs) (External link)at Victoria Police, who are specialist detectives trained to investigate the complex crimes of sexual assault and child abuse. Victoria Police has also established a dedicated taskforce, the Sano Taskforce(External link) to investigate historic and new allegations of child sexual abuse that have emanated from the inquiry.
Creating child safe organisations
The Victorian Government is implementing a range of measures to create child safe organisations. These measures will strengthen the capacity of organisations to prevent and respond to the risks of child abuse.
The Victorian Government has introduced new child safe standards that aim to drive cultural change in organisations, so that protecting children from the risks of abuse is embedded in everyday thinking and practice. The standards are being implemented in two phases, and will become compulsory by 2017 for all organisations that provide services to children.
The Victorian Government is also developing a reportable conduct scheme that will require organisations with a high level of responsibility for children to report allegations of abuse to the Commission for Children and Young People. These organisations include out-of-home care service providers, youth justice services, schools, child care and disability services for children.
For more information about the child safe standards or the reportable conduct scheme, see the Overview of child safe standards and reportable conduct scheme or visit the Department of Health and Human Services website (external link).
The Victorian Government has also introduced measures that ensure that in the future, all Victorian schools will be required to implement the child safe standards and adopt consistent policies for responding to allegations of abuse.
The Victorian Government has enhanced its Working with Children Check (external link) scheme so that all ministers of religion are required to get a Working with Children Check, unless their contact with children is only occasional and incidental to their work as a minister.
Civil law reform
The Victorian Government is continuing to implement a range of civil law reforms to provide better access to justice for victims of institutional child abuse.
On 1 July 2017, the Wrongs Amendment (Organisational Child Abuse) Act 2017 will come into effect. The Act will create a new duty of care that will allow an organisation to be held liable in negligence for organisational child abuse, unless the organisation proves that it took reasonable precautions to prevent the abuse. A fact sheet with further information is available.
The Limitation of Actions Amendment (Child Abuse) Act 2015 passed the Victorian Parliament in 2015, and became operative on 1 July 2015. The Act completely removed the limitation periods that apply to civil actions founded upon child abuse, with both retrospective and prospective effect. The reforms also removed the 12-year long-stop limitation period for wrongful death actions in relation to child abuse brought by dependants of a deceased victim.
The Victorian Government released a consultation paper in August 2015 concerning a potential Victorian redress scheme for victims of institutional child abuse. Submissions for the consultation paper have been considered in the development of a redress scheme in Victoria.
On 4 November 2016, the Commonwealth Government announced that it will establish a national redress scheme for victims of institutional child sexual abuse. The Victorian Government is currently seeking further information from the Commonwealth Government to determine whether a state-based scheme or joining a national scheme will provide the best outcome for survivors.
Work is also continuing on the implementation of other civil law reforms that were recommended by Betrayal of Trust. This includes the incorporation and insurance arrangements of certain organisations. These reforms raise significant and complex issues, as has been noted by the Chair of the Royal Commission(External link).
Common Guiding Principles
The Common Guiding Principles provide guidance on how Victorian government agencies should ordinarily respond to civil claims involving allegations of child sexual abuse.
The Common Guiding Principles are policy guidelines that complement the Model Litigant Guidelines.
Reporting a child in immediate danger:
You may speak to police confidentially even if you do not want to be involved in an investigation. Any information you provide to police may assist them in other investigations and in the prevention of further child abuse.
You can also make a confidential report by calling:
Concerns about the safety of a child or young person who may be at risk of harm:
- Child protection contacts - Department of Human Services (External link)
- Child Protection Crisis Line 13 12 78 (After hours) (External link)
If you've experienced child abuse in the past:
- Victoria Police's Sano Taskforce (External link)
- Victoria Police’s Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams (External link)
How to report a crime:
- Sexual Assault Crisis Line
1800 806 292 (External link)
- Victims of Crime Helpline
1800 819 817 (External link)
- Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (External link)
- Survivors of child sexual abuse, including a guide for parents (External link)
- Better Health Channel (External link)
- Community Health Directory (External link)
- Find more support services on the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse website (External link)