Calling out child abuse for what it is

Media Releases 20 February 2020

‘We have seen this week the incredible bravery of a number of young people who have publicly shared their accounts of how adults have let them down when they most needed protection and support,’ said Liana Buchanan, the Victorian Commissioner for Children and Young People, today.

Amid the important public debate about child abuse and the responsibilities of those who run our institutions to prioritise child safety, Commissioner Buchanan said ‘it is disturbing to see some commentary which seeks to minimise the seriousness of sexual misconduct and grooming.’

Since 9 April 2014, grooming for sexual conduct with a child under the age of 16 years has been a crime. Grooming involves predatory conduct by adults designed to facilitate later sexual activity with a child. Grooming does not necessarily involve any sexual activity or even discussion of sexual activity. Attracting a maximum term of 10 years in prison, the Victorian Parliament has recognised its seriousness.

Grooming can target those involved in the child’s life, including parents and other caregivers, colleagues and others in an organisation.

‘Sexual misconduct, including grooming, can have a devastating, long-term impact on a child – an impact that often extends into that child’s adult life. To suggest that because a sexual act did not take place grooming behaviour is not serious is a false and frankly dangerous inference,’ said Commissioner Buchanan.

Grooming can also lead to the rape and sexual assault of children. Indeed, this is often the intent of adults who engage in grooming behaviour,’ Commissioner Buchanan noted.

‘To minimise the seriousness of this conduct by labelling it as being ‘hit on’, as some media commentators have done, is deeply offensive to those who have suffered this predatory behaviour. It is also dangerous to children and young people who are experiencing such acts right now and could be discouraged from coming forward’ said Commissioner Buchanan.

As well as potentially criminal, grooming also constitutes ‘reportable conduct’ and organisations covered by the Reportable Conduct Scheme must report any allegations of grooming or other child abuse to the Commission for Children and Young People so that this behaviour does not stay hidden and un-addressed, as has often occurred in the past.

‘Based on what I see in my role as Commissioner, it is clear we cannot think child abuse is a matter of history. It is also clear that too many individuals and organisations have yet to learn the lessons of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. As adults we must act to prevent abuse, to report those we suspect of behaving inappropriately with children, and to support those prepared to speak up. Keeping children safe is everyone’s responsibility,’ Commissioner Buchanan concluded.

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