· Minister says: “To fully protect children from sexual exploitation or sexual abuse we must ensure our law combats the initial grooming process.”
· Penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment reflects the serious nature of such crimes.
Friday, 28 November 2014
On 27 November, the Minister for Justice and Equality published the General Scheme to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill.
Among the wide-ranging provisions contained in the Scheme are measures to significantly strengthen existing criminal law in combating child exploitation and, in particular, ensuring the law addresses the use of modern communication technologies as a tool which may lead to child sexual exploitation.
Child sexual exploitation often occurs following a gradual process of grooming the victim. Regularly, this would arise through seemingly innocent contact made via information and communication technology such as social media, messaging apps or online forums. This type of technology can also be used to expose children to sexually explicit and inappropriate material.
Head 8 of the Scheme creates two offences. The first criminalises adults who contact children either online or through mobile communications such as text messaging for the purpose of sexually exploiting the child. This offence is targeted at the initial stages of grooming and does not require physical contact or meeting between the adult and child in question. The offence does not necessarily require that the communication contain a sexual advance or include sexual material as these are not generally features of sophisticated grooming but it does require that the communication is to facilitate the sexual exploitation of the child. The penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment reflects the serious nature and intent behind the communication.
Head 8 also includes an offence of sending sexually explicit material to a child. This offence protects children from unwarranted and unwanted advances. There is also recognition that the intention behind this type of activity may be to expose the child to such material with a view to developing the child’s familiarity with such material or activity.
The Minister stated: “To fully protect children from sexual exploitation or sexual abuse we must ensure our law combats the initial grooming process. I believe these provisions are the necessary steps to ensure that children are protected from inappropriate contact and do so by recognising that today such contact is through modern communication technologies”.
Note for Editors
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill proposes wide ranging reforms of the law, including stronger sanctions, aimed at protecting children from sexual exploitation; child pornography and online grooming. The key elements are:
· New criminal offences to protect children against grooming, including online
· New & strengthened offences to tackle child pornography
· New prohibition against sex offenders working with children and vulnerable persons
· Strengthening the post-release supervision and monitoring of sex offenders
· Risk assessment of sex offender and disclosure of information regarding offenders to be placed on a statutory footing
· Increased protection for vulnerable persons
· Introduction of new Harassment Order
· New provisions to be introduced regarding evidence by victims, particularly children
· Gender anomaly in incest law to be addressed
· Age of consent to sexual activity to remain at 17 years of age - Two year proximity clause to be introduced
· Criminalisation of the purchase of sexual services