The Offences of Procuring and Grooming Children for Sexual Activity in NSW

by Sonia Hickey & Ugur Nedim

In recent weeks, New South Wales Police officers have made three separate arrests in relation to alleged online grooming, and have warned the public to be vigilant as reports of child exploitation have almost doubled over the past few months.

Of course, these increasing figures could be explained by the fact that most Australian children are spending more time than ever online, due to lockdowns and school closures.

Any parent will tell you that one of the hardest aspects of raising children in this day and age is choosing when to let them go online – whether it’s for gaming or to have their own YouTube or Instagram account.

And it’s not just about ‘screen time’, it’s about setting healthy boundaries around their privacy, but at the same time, making sure you know what they’re doing – what they are viewing, and – most importantly – who they are interacting with.

It’s not easy, and often children are far more tech savvy than their parents, but that doesn’t mean we can be complacent either.

In the period July 2019-June 2020, there were 21,000 reports of child sexual exploitation. By comparison, since January this year, the Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad has arrested more than 560 people and laid more than 2800 charges.

The numbers are steadily climbing, and children and young people are more at risk than ever before

What is child grooming?

Child grooming is befriending and establishing an emotional connection with a child with the intention of forming a sexual relationship. People who want to groom children often befriend them online, establishing a bond.

Occasionally these groomers pretend to be young people themselves.

Increasingly, children are being tricked or coerced into sexual activity on webcam or into sending sexual images, but physical meetings can occur too.

The offence of procuring a child for unlawful sexual activity

 Procuring a child for unlawful sexual activity is an offence under section 66EB(2) of the Crimes Act 1900 which carries a maximum penalty of 12 years in prison or 15 years if the child was under the age of 14 years

To establish the offence, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that:

  1. You were at least 18 years of age,
  2. You procured a child for unlawful sexual activity, and
  3. You did so intentionally.

‘Procure’ means to encourage, entice, recruit or induce, whether by threats, promises or otherwise.

A ‘child’ is someone under the age of 16 years.

‘Unlawful sexual activity’ covers a broad range of conduct, including:

  1. Sexual act,
  2. Sexual touching,
  3. Sexual intercourse,
  4. Producing child abuse material,
  5. Forced self-manipulation, and
  6. Child prostitution.

The prosecution does not need to specify the type of procured activity.

The charge extends to procuring adults who pretend to be children, provided the prosecution proves you believed the adult was a child.

A defence to the charge is that you reasonably believed the other person was not a child.

The offence of grooming a child for unlawful sexual activity

Grooming a Child for Unlawful Sexual Activity is an offence under section 66EB(3) of the Crimes Act 1900 which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison or 12 years if the child was under 14 years of age.

 To establish the offence, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that:

  1. You were at least 18 years of age,
  2. You groomed a child for unlawful sexual activity, and
  3. You did so intentionally.

‘Groomed’ means to expose a child to indecent material, or provide a child with an intoxicating substance, or with any financial or material benefit, intending to make it easier to procure the child for unlawful sexual activity.

The prosecution does not need to specify the type of activity you groomed the child for the offence extends to procuring adults who pretend to be children, provided the prosecution proves you believed the adult was a child.

A defence to the charge is that you reasonably believed the other person was not a child.

Duress is also a defence to the charge.

Grooming a parent  or carer to gain access to a child

Grooming an Adult for Unlawful Sexual Activity with a Child is an offence under section 66EC of the Crimes Act 1900, which carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison or 6 years if the child was under 14 years of age.

To establish the offence, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that:

  1. You were an adult,
  2. You provided another adult with a financial or material benefit, and
  3. You did so intending to make it easier to procure a child under that adult’s authority for unlawful sexual activity.

Those with authority over a child include:

  1. The child’s parents or guardians, and
  2. Any other adult/s with responsibility over the child at the relevant time.

Proceedings for the offence can only be commenced by, or with the approval of, the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Duress is a defence to the charge.

Carly’s Law

In June 2017, the federal Government introduced a new law to give police more power to protect children from online predators. Under Carly’s Law an adult who communicates with a child and lies about their age or identity and meets or arranges to meet with the child will face a maximum five years in jail, while someone who communicates with a child and lies about their age or identity with the intent of committing an offence against the child will face up to 10 years in jail.

This is known as Carly’s Law after 15-year-old Carly Ryan, who was murdered in 2007 by a 50-year-old paedophile who pretended to be 20 years of age and lured her with online contact to a meeting.

What can parents do?

While in recent years these new laws have been introduced to combat a growing problem, the safety of children really starts at school and at home. Most schools have introduced regular cyber safety classes, but parents and carers must take an active interest in what young people are doing online.

Unfortunately there are no clear warning signs, so the best defence is to educate children about ‘stranger danger’ online and to establish appropriate rules with regard to their online activity, with an expectation that you’ll check their accounts from time to time.

Parents and guardians are advised to make sure privacy settings are up to date, to delete unknown contacts, report and block anything that is unwelcome or inappropriate, and encourage young people to never accept friend requests from strangers.

Authors

Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice, and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team.

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with over 20 years of experience as a criminal defence lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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