The Royal Commission is likely to consider, if not recommend, tightening up the laws for misprision of a felony (covering up for a crime). What it not as likely to be considered will be just what penalties should apply.
One of the problems in sentencing of historical sexual abuse cases is that it is based on the norms for the time of the offence, not of the time of conviction. This leads many people to be disappointed at the punishment meted out to their abusers.
Penalties for cover-ups must reflect current standards, not those at the time of the cover-up, otherwise even more people will be left with the burden of disappointment and disillusionment. If an actual cover-up occurred for an event in 1980, but was not revealed until 2010, then it must be the standards of 2010 which apply, not those of 1980. Clearly, a range of penalties will apply depending on the extent, and consequences, of a particular cover-up.
Lawyers for the offenders will surely try it on with regards to the differential sentencing for cover-ups, as they do in all criminal cases. Be sure to see leniency pleas based on factors such as not being aware of the effects on victims of child abuse, or appeals to “standards and processes of the time”.
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Any legislation concerning the cover-ups must close these loop-holes. Ignorance of the law is no defence. Ignorance of the effects of child abuse is also no defence.
In the case of drug offences, authorities often catch the lower ranking offenders, and complain about not getting to the “Mr. Bigs”. In the case of child sexual abuse, we now see many priests and low-ranking officials caught and convicted. There have been very few prosecutions of the “Mr. Bigs”, such as Cardinals and Chairpersons of organisations.
If we are to finally get something done about stopping child abuse, we must be able to get the “Mr. Bigs”. This will only happen if they are prosecuted for their role in the abuse, via the cover-up. If people like Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop Aspinall and the Scouts Australia head, Governor-General Quentin Bryce and so on, are under threat of imprisonment for not doing the right thing about offenders in their organisations, then we would likely see dramatic improvements in behaviours of those under their command.
When debate reaches the point whereby accountability is forced upon the cover-up merchants, then there will be a subsequent, vigorous, debate about appropriate sentencing guidelines. A good place to start would be at least an equivalent punishment for the abuser and the person who allowed the abuse to happen in the first place. If the cover-up involved more than one abuser, then additional punishments should apply. In the case of some Orders of the Catholic Church, for example, there were multiple offenders, so one would expect particularly severe punishments for the heads of those Orders.
All of this is so obvious to victims, but there will need to be some activity to convince the general public, and politicians, of the need for appropriate punishment, not only for offenders, but also for those who enable their abuse. The Royal Commissioners should play their part in achieving this outcome. This is the real issue on which the Royal Commission’s effectiveness will be judged, by history.
TOMORROW: Boys’ Town, Beaudesert
That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)