February 13, 2014  |  Second reading speech

Crimes Amendment (Grooming) Bill 2013

Mr CARROLL (Niddrie) — I also rise to make a contribution to the debate on the Crimes Amendment (Grooming) Bill 2013. This legislation may be small in pages and clauses but it is large in importance in terms of the gap that has remained in Victoria’s legal system for
too long. This legislation has support on both sides of the chamber, and it follows a suite of legislation that has also had bipartisan support — for example, legislation about working with children and Brodie’s law on bullying. There is also bipartisan support for the upcoming legislation dealing with sexting.

The bill proposes to implement recommendations from the Family and Community Development Committee’s report Betrayal of Trust — Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Non‑government Organisations. It seeks to amend the Crimes Act 1958 to introduce an offence of grooming for sexual conduct with a child under the age of 16. Grooming is behaviour undertaken by a perpetrator with the aim of befriending and establishing an emotional connection with a child, and in some cases the child’s family, to lower inhibitions or to gain access to sexually abuse the child.

There is no silver bullet when it comes to grooming. Like technology, our response to these unimaginable crimes must keep evolving. We cannot ever say we have a final remedy to a
problem because we do not know what the next problem will be. As legislators we have a big task in keeping up with technological change, particularly when it comes to law and order and enforcement. Internet and online technology is constantly expanding and evolving. It is embedded in our lives and even more so in the lives of our children, who are often referred to as digital natives. The facts speak for themselves. Consider this: when I left high school in 1993 — 20 years ago — the World Wide Web had 50 sites on it; today about 50 sites are created every minute. Technological change is simply astonishing.

New forms of communication require us to be even more vigilant in terms of protecting our children. Cyberspace provides enormous challenges for law‑makers. It requires us as legislators to be vigilant and ready to adapt to a constantly changing landscape. Technological change and advancement and its impact on law and order is something that needs to be monitored and considered. When it comes to technological change, the facts are simply astonishing. Consider this: it took radio 38 years to reach 50 million listeners, and TV reached 50 million users within 13 years. In terms of what our children are growing up with today, Facebook amassed 50 million users within one year and Twitter had 50 million users within nine months.

The pace of technological change means children are almost always much more comfortable with online communications than their parents. They are, as I said, digital natives. While we may marvel at technological change, children adapt to it quickly and it
becomes second nature to them.

I also wish to thank the parliamentary library for its research brief on the bill, particularly in terms of the points raised by Patrick Tidmarsh, a forensic interview adviser with the Victoria Police sexual offences and child abuse investigation team. What Mr Tidmarsh said in the evidence he gave to the Family and Community Development Committee is quite chilling. He spoke about how grooming is not exclusively about the sexualisation of the relationship with the child but about the isolation of the child and the construction of a situation in which secrets about the relationship are kept by the child. He suggested some
perpetrators will go to enormous lengths: they will spend weeks, months or even years crafting a relationship with a family or an organisation and a child in order to gain access — unfettered access, isolated access — to that child.

When I was growing up there was not really the issue of online predators. I grew up in the era of Neighbourhood Watch, the Safety House program and stranger danger. Today what happens online and in the bedroom is incredibly concerning. Evidence presented to the committee talked about how grooming commonly happens when people are around. It is a mechanism whereby the perpetrator can test to see if the child will report the behaviour. What is perhaps even more disturbing is that children are extremely unlikely to report a perpetrator after the relationship has been manipulated and crafted, when they see the perpetrator — the person abusing them — as connected to and trusted by their parents. The methods perpetrators will go to are incredibly diverse. They use different language, different games, different manipulations, different masks and different ways of tricking people. Today law enforcement officials have to be trained to listen to the crafting of the relationship narrative, not just the narrative of events.

The parliamentary library research brief on this bill says the committee noted the findings of a 2013 New South Wales Ombudsman report that outlined some of the types of behaviours that perhaps would support a conclusion that grooming behaviour is occurring. They include persuading a child or a group of children that they have a ‘special relationship’; inappropriately allowing a child to overstep the rules; asking the child to keep the relationship to themselves and testing boundaries — for example, undressing in front of the child, encouraging inappropriate physical contact even where it is not overtly sexual, talking about sex, and ‘accidental’ intimate touching.

In preparing my contribution one of the most disturbing things I came across was the story of Carly Ryan. I think other members speaking on this legislation have mentioned her. In 2006 Carly Ryan thought she had met her dream boyfriend online. His name was Brandon Kane, an 18‑year‑old musician from Melbourne. However, Brandon was fictitious. He was an internet construct, the cyberspace alter ego of Gary Francis Newman,
a 50‑year‑old predator paedophile.

Carly fell in love with Brandon during 18 months of online contact and phone calls. Gary Newman spent months masquerading as Brandon Kane to win Carly’s love. When he tried to seduce her in person pretending to be Brandon’s father, ‘Shane’, she rejected him. Angry, Gary Newman returned to Melbourne vowing to ‘fix Carly up’. He used his alter ego to lure Carly to one final, fatal meeting. In February 2007 Gary Newman convinced Carly to meet him. He took Carly to a secluded beach at Port Elliot, South Australia. There he bashed her, pushed her face into the sand, suffocated her, then threw her into the water to drown. Carly was only 15 years old.

Within 11 days detectives located Gary Newman in Victoria. They found him at his computer, logged in as Brandon Kane and talking to a 14‑year‑old girl in Western Australia. They arrested him and charged him with Carly’s murder. In a South Australian Supreme Court trial, which continued for over three months, a jury found Gary Francis
Newman guilty of murder. He was sentenced in 2010 and ordered to serve life behind bars — the justice he deserved. On the Carly Ryan Foundation website the then South Australian Justice Trish Kelly is quoted as saying:

Gary Newman deserves a life behind bars for his grossly perverted plan to deceive, seduce and murder Carly.

We hope that in Victoria this legislation goes a long way to protecting every child so they cannot be seduced online.

Before I conclude my contribution, I want to put on record that I support the legislation. As I said earlier, it is smart legislation that is good legislation.

I also want to talk about a survey I came across from the Polly Klaas Foundation in the United States. In 2005, 742 teens, aged between 13 and 18, and 726 tweens, aged between
8 to 12, were surveyed. Fifty‑four per cent of teens admitted having communicated with someone they had never met using an instant messaging program, 50 per cent had communicated with someone they had never met via email and 45 per cent had communicated with someone they had never met in a chat room. A disturbing 16 per cent of all respondents had discovered that someone they were communicating with online was an adult pretending to be much younger.

This bill is an attempt to address some of the techniques used by online predators so that we can put additional safeguards in place for our children. I commend the bill to the
house.