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Victorians Urged to Have Their Say on Child Sex Offences

VICTORIANS are being urged to have their say on the sentencing of some of the state's worst criminals.
A review of maximum sentences for child sex offences could see a big jump in penalties that have not changed for 80 years.
Community anger over the case of a girl assaulted two weeks after her 10th birthday prompted the State Government to commission the study by the Sentencing Advisory Council.
Council chairman, Prof Arie Freiberg, yesterday said the public's views would help decide whether discrepancies in the maximum sentences for three sex offences against children should be removed.
"We know it's going to be difficult for people to talk to us about such an emotionally charged subject as abuse of children, but it will be crucial for the council to hear the range of views and opinions in the community," he said.
Stephen Maurice, the catalyst for the council's review, was sentenced to a maximum nine years' jail with a non-parole period of seven years.
Maurice, who broke in to his 10-year-old victim's home at night and attacked her in her bed, has appealed against the alleged severity of his sentence.
The maximum penalty for sexual penetration of a child under 10 is 25 years -- the same as for rape.
But when the victim is aged 10-16 the maximum term is only 10 years, a penalty which has not changed since 1928.
The third offence under review is sexual penetration of a child aged 10-16 who is under the care, supervision or authority of the offender.
The 15-year maximum for that offence has also been in place since 1928.
Attorney-General Rob Hulls said the government was committed to making sure sentencing options "reflect community expectations".
The advisory council will today release a consultation paper and a statistical report on child sex sentences in the past two years.
Prof Freiberg said the study exposed flaws in "the mythology of sex offences".
He said figures showed barely 6 per cent of charges of sexual penetration of a child aged 10-16, and 22 per cent of charges involving children under 10, were against offenders with a prior conviction for a sex offence.
"All of the evidence is that the belief that every sexual offender is a predatory repeat sex offender is just not true," he said.
"The stranger is not the danger. A lot of these people are known to the victim and have no prior convictions."
The heaviest penalties in the past two years were imposed on people convicted of sexual penetration of a child aged 10-16 who was under the care, supervision or authority of the offender.
The top penalty for that offence, which applies to people like teachers and health workers, is 15 years' jail.
During the two years surveyed, the average total sentence in such cases was a maximum of 8.8 years - higher than incest (7.7 years), rape (7.6 years), sexual penetration of a child under 10 (6.7 years) and sexual penetration with a child 10-16 (4.2 years).
The courts dealt with 179 cases of sexual penetration of a child aged 10-16, 94 cases of incest, 114 rape cases, 23 cases of sexual penetration with a child under care, and 44 cases of sexual penetration of a child under 10.

Herald Sun (20-3-2009)
Geoff Wilkinson

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