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Victoria modernises child abuse laws pertaining to organisations

On Saturday 1 July 2017, Victoria became the first state in Australia to provide an additional level of protection to children by implementing the Wrongs Amendment (Organisational Child Abuse) Act 2017.

The amendments apply duty of care requirements to all organisations that exercise care, supervision or authority over children. The changes are the result of the bipartisan 2013 report Betrayal of Trust as well as recommendations made by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse.

These changes will impact organisations rather than individual employees or volunteers. The change revolves around the presumption of liability being placed on the organisation, whereas previously the victim was required to prove the organisation was liable for any abuse that occurred while a child was in its care. Now organisations must take reasonable precautions to prevent abuse being carried out under their organisational banner.

Reasonable precautions may include screening of staff and reference checking, ensuring all staff have a valid Working with Children Check and implementing systems to provide early warning of possible offences; however, the Victorian Government has purposely left “reasonable precautions” undefined in order to allow organisations the flexibility to implement the necessary steps that are suitable to the individual organisation.

The amendment will only apply after it’s been proved that child abuse occurred while a child is under the duty of care of an organisation. Once this is proved, then an organisation will be required to prove that they didn’t fail in their duty of care and took reasonable precautions to prevent the abuse.

Additionally, the Crimes Amendment (Sexual Offences) Act 2016 has come into force, updating the definitions of a number of sexual offences to modernise them and allow offenders to be charged for abuse committed using the internet or digital technologies. These updates allow perpetrators to be convicted of abuse conducted remotely via technologies such as Skype where the child is not physically in the presence of the perpetrator.

In response to the amendments, Victorian attorney-general Martin Pakula said, “We’re leading Australia with these laws to help protect children from abuse, and hold organisations to account”.

The Victorian government has released a fact sheet with more information regarding these changes.

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