Today marks an important milestone in Victoria’s history as the first day religious and spiritual leaders in Victoria must legally report child abuse to the authorities, even if it was heard in the confessional.
The historic new laws passed by the Andrews Labor Government late last year officially come into effect today – meaning people in religious ministries are now mandated reporters to child protection and the confessional seal must be lifted for suspected sexual abuse of children.
Mandatory reporting refers to the legal requirement for nominated professional groups to report a reasonable belief of physical or sexual child abuse to authorities.
Priests and spiritual leaders in religious ministries now join teachers, police, medical practitioners, nurses, school counsellors, early childhood and youth justice workers as mandated reporters.
In addition, the new laws ensure disclosures of abuse during religious confession are not exempt under the Failure to Disclose offence contained in the Crimes Act. Those who don’t report abuse face up to three years in prison.
The landmark reforms also allow survivors of sexual and non-sexual institutional abuse to apply to the courts to overturn unfair historical compensation payments.
Other reforms passed to strengthen the protection of children include:
- Limiting the right of appeal to VCAT for people whose Working With Children Check application is rejected if they have been charged with, convicted or found guilty of a Category A offence as an adult. These offences are the most serious offences and include murder and rape
- Allowing siblings where one is Aboriginal and the other is not, to both be a part of the Aboriginal Children in Aboriginal Care program, ensuring better connection to culture and community for children in care
- Clarifying that immunisation is part of routine medical care, guaranteeing vaccines for children in out-of-home care and protecting vulnerable children and adults across the entire community.
These reforms respond directly to recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
As noted by Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers Luke Donnellan
“Victoria is a safer place because of these laws – there are now no excuses for people in religious ministry not to report physical and sexual abuse to authorities.”
“Every Victorian has a responsibility to report child abuse and neglect to child protection authorities even if they aren’t mandated. We can’t undo the harm caused to so many children, but we can ensure it never happens again.”
As stated by Attorney-General Jill Hennessy
“We have acted on the important recommendations from the Royal Commission as nothing is more important than protecting and ensuring the safety of our children.”