By Matthew Drogemuller
Australia was horrified when 31-year-old Sean Price murdered 17-year-old Masa Vukotic as she was walking near her Doncaster home last year.
Grief turned to anger when the public was informed that Price was out on bail at the time, having previously assaulted seven women and sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl and a mother who was at home with her two children.
Following a diagnosis of schizophrenia, Price had been sentenced to five years in a psychiatric hospital for his earlier crimes, then released into the community on a supervision order.
He has now been sentenced to 38 years’ imprisonment for the murder of Masa Vukotic, and the rape of another woman just two days later.
Trigger for Change
The public outcry over Price’s case triggered a government review, which has led to legislative changes in Victoria. The changes relate to ‘serious sex offenders’ who are adults convicted of a ‘relevant offence’, including:
- Sexual assaults,
- Attempts or threats to sexual assault,
- Indecent acts with children,
- Procuring sexual penetration of a child or by threats or fraud,
- Child grooming,
- Child pornography, and
The changes include:
Safety of the Community Paramount
Judges are required to place a greater emphasis on the safety of the community when sentencing serious sex offenders.
For example, the new section 24A of the Serious Sex Offenders (Detention and Supervision) Act 2009 gives the court power to impose additional restrictions on supervision if they are:
‘necessary to address the risk of harm (including sexual harm or violence or both) to the community’.
Such restrictions include prohibiting alcohol and drug consumption, residential requirements, curfews, bans from specific places and prohibitions against associating with specific individuals or groups.
Greater Police Powers
Police will soon be given the power to enter, search and seize property at a supervised offender’s residence, without having to obtain a warrant.
They will be able use reasonable force during any such search.
Tougher Penalties for Breaching Supervision Orders
Any reckless or intentional breach of a supervision order will attract a maximum penalty of 12 months’ imprisonment.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has strongly defended the new measures, stating:
‘Dangerous offenders who are an unacceptable risk to the community should not be in the community – and we’re toughening the laws to make sure that happens… ‘I think this is a balanced approach, it’s a tough approach of course.’
Under section 6A of the Act, the laws explicitly give ‘paramount consideration to the safety and protection of the community’ over other factors – such as the lack of previous offending, demonstrated remorse, steps towards rehabilitation and personal characteristics.
Whether the new laws will prevent sexual assaults is questionable, but victims’ groups believe they are a step in the right direction.