Sexual offences Bill tough on child exploitation – Fitzgerald

Minister says legislation will protect children online with crimes carrying prison sentences

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald: “This important new Bill provides for wide ranging reform of our laws, including stronger sanctions, aimed at protecting children from sexual exploitation; child abuse material and online grooming.” File photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald: “This important new Bill provides for wide ranging reform of our laws, including stronger sanctions, aimed at protecting children from sexual exploitation; child abuse material and online grooming.” File photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.

 

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has said new legislation lays down tough sentences for those who use the internet and social media to prey on children.

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 was published on Wednesday following its approval by Cabinet.

The planned legislation contains new criminal offences to protect children against grooming and fresh measures to protect children from online predators.

“Many Irish children have instantaneous and often unsupervised access to the internet and social media via smartphones and other networked devices. This Bill aims to better protect those children,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

“These proposed new laws will protect children while online and lays down tough sentences for those who seek to prey on innocent children via the internet and social media.”

Ms Fitzgerald said the Bill responded to new and emerging threats such as predatory activity which target children via the internet and social media.

“This important new Bill provides for wide ranging reform of our laws, including stronger sanctions, aimed at protecting children from sexual exploitation; child abuse material and online grooming,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

New offences

She said heavy penalties would be introduced for new offences relating to the sexual exploitation of children with potential prison sentences ranging from 10-14 years.

The new offences include paying for purpose of sexually exploiting a child; invitation to sexual touching and sexual activity in the presence of a child.

“These offences are a significant step in combating risks posed to children. Sexual grooming of children can include familiarising children with sexually explicit material, with a view to developing an, ultimately exploitative, relationship with that child,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

“These new offences and heavy sanctions reflect the seriousness of these crimes and reaffirm our societal determination to punish those who exploit innocent children.”

Ms Fitzgerald said two new offences targeting online sexual predators were aimed at protecting children from exploitation involving new technologies, including social media.

One offence criminalises adults who contact children either online or through mobile communications such as text messaging for the purpose of sexually exploiting the child.

Another offence is that of sending sexually explicit material to a child.

Under the section on child pornography, the Bill includes new offences including recruiting a child or arranging for a child to participate in a pornographic performance and attending a pornographic performance involving a child.

Offences relating to the possession and distribution of child pornography are strengthened.

Ms Fitzgerald said the organization and distribution of child sex abuse material was “a heinous crime” and was a global problem.

New harassment orders are contained in the Bill.

The proposed legislation introduces an additional protection for victims of sexual offences who are at risk of continuing to be the target of their attacker.

People convicted of sexual offences and who are to serve a sentence of imprisonment may be prohibited, by court order, from making contact with their victim.

Proximity of age

The age of consent will remain at 17 years of age. However, a proximity of age defence will be introduced which can be relied on where the sexual act is a non-exploitative, consensual act and the parties are aged within two years of each other.

The Minister said: “This simply recognises the reality that young persons can engage in consensual sexual acts.”

Two new offences will be introduced which criminalise paying for sexual activity with a sex worker. In both cases, the person providing the sexual service does not commit an offence.