CRIMES AMENDMENT (GROOMING) BILL 2013

Ms GARRETT (Brunswick) — I rise to speak on the Crimes Amendment (Grooming) Bill 2013 and to join with all members of this house in supporting this important piece of legislation. There are some forms of conduct that are so heinous, so inhuman that it is difficult for us to confront them and to acknowledge their existence. Such is the case with the abuse of children — defenceless, innocent, trusting children.

I have spoken in this house before about when I had my first child, now nearly 11 years ago. I remember holding this tiny, tiny infant and thinking, ‘I would die for you in an instant. I will, with every fibre of my being, care for you, shelter you, envelop you with love and hold your hand every step you take for as long as I have breath’. I also remember — and those of us in this house who have had children or who have nieces or nephews will understand this — being struck by how completely and utterly fragile and dependent children are.

They are utterly dependent on their carers to provide for their needs and to cherish and guide them.

It is a terrible truth in our community that some carers and some people in positions of trust and responsibility choose to harm those in their charge. What has become horrifically clear as the light has been shone on situations of systemic, institutionalised abuse is that the extent of this harm appears limited only by the cruel imagination of the adult. Such is the nature of grooming children for the purpose of sexually abusing them. As we are aware and has been spoken about in this house, grooming is behaviour and actions undertaken by a perpetrator with the aim of befriending a child or establishing an emotional connection with them, and in many cases with that child’s family, to lower their inhibitions and gain access to their lives with the ultimate aim of breaching their trust in the most heinous of circumstances.

We heard the member for Ballarat West, who has spent much of her professional life working with victims of sexual abuse, talk about how widespread and systemic grooming is and what a key part it plays in the selection and ultimate abuse of victims. We also heard from her how important it is that this bill passes and that this becomes a crime, because of course the damage is not limited to that done by the breach of trust or the act of sexual abuse; it is a lifelong damage that these victims must endure.

This bill, which Labor supports, makes the conduct of grooming a crime in itself, not simply a matter attached as an aggravating factor where sexual abuse of children is found. This is as it should be. As we have heard, the bill implements some of the recommendations of the report of the inquiry the Family and Community Development Committee conducted into the handling of child abuse by religious and other non-government organisations and its subsequent report, Betrayal of Trust.

On behalf of the people of my electorate I would like to thank on the record, as many members have, those committee members who undertook this extraordinary, often arduous, but terribly important body of work. I spoke to the member for Thomastown this morning when we were discussing speaking on this bill, and I asked her how she coped being on the committee. She said it was harrowing but nothing compared to the experiences of those who had suffered sexual abuse. She said, ‘You gained strength and you gained purpose from focusing on what we as legislators could do to address this conduct, protect the vulnerable and help those who are already victims’. They have done that, and they have done us all proud in the Victorian Parliament.

This bill is a product of their work. It is us, as legislators, confronting that which we, like so many others, would prefer not to confront. It is us, as legislators, taking on the responsibility that has been given to us by the community to address this conduct, to protect the vulnerable and to call those who would participate in such predatory behaviour to account.

This legislation does not require a substantive offence of sexual abuse to have been committed for criminal conduct to have taken place. Importantly, it allows for the primary or intended victim of sexual abuse not to be the only victim in these situations, thereby acknowledging that parents and carers can also be victims of this criminal conduct. We know how important this is, because often parents and carers are unknowingly caught in the web of the predatory conduct.

Upon discovering what has happened to their child or those in their care, they are then faced with what would perhaps be one of the darkest horrors of thinking that they had possibly aided, abetted or assisted an individual whom they trusted in harming a child in the most horrific way, therefore it is absolutely appropriate that where this conduct has occurred this offence extends to the harm caused to all those who are deeply affected.

It is important that the bill provides that the sexual offence does not actually have to have been committed, because we know it is the conduct itself leading to or hoping for the sexual abuse to take place that can cause significant damage. It is also important that this legislation is passed so that there is a deterrent to predators who might consider engaging in this conduct. The bill also provides the police with a very important opportunity to prevent the conduct from occurring, to intervene to protect kids from the irreversible damage that occurs should such abuse take place.

As the member for Thomastown outlined when sharing her experience working in a kids sports organisation, it is important to identify the risk management and auditing that needs to be done to identify this conduct, because whilst it is very difficult to detect, and these perpetrators are very smart at what they do, the more weapons police and other authorities have in their armoury to identify this behaviour and stop it, the better.

Labor absolutely supports this bill. We believe an offence of grooming should be introduced. We believe it is amongst the most heinous acts of individuals in our community to deliberately, deviously and with absolute mal-intent systematically identify often very vulnerable children in vulnerable situations. These people work on their victims to gain their trust and weasel their way into their lives and the lives of families and those who care for them with the absolute and sole intention of sexually abusing the children. The damage that causes is often irreparable.

I join with other members of this house in commending this bill to the house. I commend the work of the committee that did so much on behalf of the Victorian community. It is hoped the government will act swiftly on the range of recommendations contained in the committee’s report. It is also hoped that we as a society act swiftly and with dedication to address the devastation that has already been caused. Too many people have suffered horrifically at the hands of those who were supposed to provide and care for them, who were supposed to take those children in their arms and guide them through to adulthood with care, compassion and love but instead exposed them to a range of unimaginable horrors. We support this legislation. We look forward to more legislation coming forward arising from the recommendations of this inquiry. We look forward to our community settling on appropriate and just compensation for those who have suffered. I commend the bill to the house.

Hansard, 2014