Tough new sentences are to be introduced against those who target children for sexual grooming, with jail terms of up to 14 years on the cards for online sexual predators.
Two offences are being created targeting online sexual predators in a move to protect children from exploitation in the era of new technology and social media.
The new offences which carry heavy penalties, including prison sentences of up to 10 or 14 years.
They relate to paying for the purpose of exploiting a child; invitation to sexual touching; sexual activity in the presence of a child; causing a child to watch sexual activity and making arrangements to meet a child for the purpose of sexually exploiting that child.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald published the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 yesterday. She said the legislation aims to better protect children who have instantaneous and often unsupervised access to the internet and social media.
“These proposed new laws will protect children while online and lays down tough sentences for those who seek to prey on innocent children via the internet and social media,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
The legislation includes two new offences that criminalise the paying for sexual activity with a prostitute, including having sex with a person who is trafficked.
Ms Fitzgerald, who said she is convinced that targeting the demand for such services is the way forward, also indicated she is examining the possibility of introducing proposals which would decriminalise a person offering sexual services.
The first offence aimed at those who use social media to prey on children criminalises adults who contact children either online or through mobile communication such as text messages for the purpose of sexually exploiting the child. This offence is aimed at the initial stages of grooming and does not require physical contact or meeting between the adult and child in question.
The offence does not necessarily require that the communication contains a sexual advance or sexual material but it does require that the communications is to facilitate the sexual exploitation of the child with the penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment reflecting the serious nature and intent behind the communication.
The second offence is one of sending sexually explicit material to a child, which is aimed at protecting children from unwarranted and unwanted advances.
The intention behind such activity may be to expose the child to inappropriate material in order to develop their familiarity with such material or activity.
Existing laws relating to child abuse material have been strengthened and new offences have been created of recruitment of a child or arranging for a child to participate in a pornographic performance as well as attending a pornographic performance including a child or organising child prostitution or child pornography.
Ms Fitzgerald said every possible step must be taken to combat child sex abuse material. “This new bill ensures there are tough offences in our law for those who seek to exploit children through either producing, distributing or even viewing child sex abuse material.”
While the age of consent will remain at 17 years of age, a proximity-of-age defence will be introduced that can be relied on where the sexual act in a non-exploitative, consensual act and the parties are aged within two years of each other.
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