In brief - In late July, the Northern Territory parliament passed amendments to the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT) replacing the term "sexual relationship" with "repeated sexual abuse" in the context of children, bringing it into line with other Australian jurisdictions. The NT parliament also introduced a new offence of grooming a child, criminalised stealthing and removed the ability for child sex offenders to rely on good character references during sentencing.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recommended that each state and territory government introduce legislation to amend laws relating to offences involving an unlawful sexual relationship with a child. One of the recommendations included a law that an unlawful sexual relationship is established by more than one unlawful sexual act (i.e. repeated sexual abuse).
Since 2017, State and territory governments began to use the terminology "repeated sexual abuse" instead of "relationship" enabling clarity for adults and children seeking to report abuse. The State of South Australia was the most recent State to introduce the changes in May 2023. The NT Attorney-General Chansey Paech recognised that "this conduct is the deplorable abuse of a child and the terminology of a 'relationship' is not appropriate". The amendment is designed to give a voice back to children so they can better understand when repeated sexual abuse has occurred as opposed to trying to express an ongoing relationship with the perpetrator.
The legislative amendments also introduce a new offence of grooming a child to make it easier to procure the child to engage in sexual activity. Attorney-General Chansey Paech noted that these reforms are designed to create a broader definition of a person of "authority" to capture "any person who has authority over the young person because of the circumstances of their relationship".
Another key reform under the legislative amendments was to prevent perpetrators of sexual offences from relying on good character references during sentencing. A key advocate for this reform was 2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame who recognised that grooming of child victims extends not to just the victim but to the wider community as the perpetrator seeks to create "an entire ecosystem of abuse where that kind of behaviour is normalised".
Impacts for NT organisations working with children
The legislative amendments in the NT aim to assist vulnerable young persons and organisations in better understanding and identifying when a crime has been perpetrated. Organisations that work with children may wish to ensure that their child safe policy framework has been updated:
- to reflect the new terminology (which applies retrospectively)
- incorporate education around the new grooming offences to ensure that any "warning bells" are identified to prevent a foreseeable risk of injury to a child.
This is commentary published by Colin Biggers & Paisley for general information purposes only. This should not be relied on as specific advice. You should seek your own legal and other advice for any question, or for any specific situation or proposal, before making any final decision. The content also is subject to change. A person listed may not be admitted as a lawyer in all States and Territories. © Colin Biggers & Paisley, Australia 2023.