Reporting sexual offences against children – what you need to know

Avant media

Wednesday, 25 August 2021

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The care you provide to your patients goes beyond the clinical aspects, and patient confidentiality will always be front and centre of your mind. However, at some point in your career, you may be faced with a situation where a young patient confides in you, they have been the victim of a sexual offence.

Recent changes to Queensland legislation, effective from 5 July 2021, means any adult who becomes aware of a sexual offence committed against a child must report it to the police. A child is anyone under the age of 16 or anyone with an impairment of the mind.

How do the changes impact doctors?

You may face a scenario where a patient under the age of 16 discloses they are in a consensual, sexual relationship with an 18-year-old. Or your patient, also under the age of 16 who tells you they were sexually abused, but they don’t want anyone else to know. Another could be a patient under the age of 16 tells you they have taken an intimate photo of themselves and willingly sent it to their 18-year-old partner who has threatened to share the photo on social media.

Under the new legislation, if a patient discloses information to you that causes you to believe on reasonable grounds, or ought reasonably to cause you to believe, that a child sexual offence is being or has been committed against them by an adult, you must report it to the police – unless you have a reasonable excuse not to.

The definition of child sexual offence is quite broad and encompasses several scenarios, from distributing, or threatening to distribute an intimate image of a child to engaging in a sexual relationship with a child to offences involving child exploitation material.

A reasonable belief is one that a reasonable person would form in the same position and with the same information.

What is a reasonable excuse?

There are several reasonable excuses to consider. Firstly, there is no obligation to report a sexual offence to the police if you believe on reasonable grounds the information has already been disclosed to the police or reported under the provisions of the Child Protection Act 1999, Education (General Provisions) Act 2006, chapter 12, part 10 or Youth Justice Act 1992, part 8 or 9.

Secondly, if your patient becomes an adult and you reasonably believe they do not want the information to be disclosed.

Lastly, if you reasonably believe disclosing the information would put yourself or another person, except for the alleged offender, in danger, you do not have to do so.

What happens if you don’t report?

The change to the legislation is part of the Criminal Code (Child Sexual Offences Reform) and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2020, and the amendment can be found in section 229BC of the Queensland Criminal Code.

As a person of trust, it is important for you to understand your obligations and the changes to the legislation. While it is a criminal offence for any adult not to report to police sexual offences against a child by another adult, and the maximum penalty is three years in imprisonment, there is the provision of reasonable excuses for you to consider.

If you have any questions regarding the new legislation and your obligations, the Medico-legal Advisory Services team can assist. They are available 24/7, after hours and on weekends in emergencies. Contact the team on 1800 128 268.

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