Internet-based sexual offending is becoming a particular problem in our community. Offences such as procuring a child to commit an indecent act and the possession of child pornography come before the courts on an almost daily basis. If the media attention that such matters receive is anything to go by, Internet sex crime is an issue of particular public interest and concern.
In response, the Sexual Crimes Investigation Branch of South Australia Police is (quite rightly) devoting considerable resources to the problem. The police have become impressively proactive in this area – they have developed specialist software to identify and track offenders and often engage in “undercover” action in chat rooms and on social networks in order to identify offenders. They call this “Operation Decimate” (possibly in ignorance of the etymological arguments supporting a definition of “to reduce by one tenth”).
Their efforts are bearing fruit. Over the past few months I have started acting for an unusually high number of men charged with sexual offences directly relating to their use of the Internet. No doubt other criminal lawyers are noticing a similar upwards trend in this area.
In what follows I do not in any way wish to minimise the impact of this sort of offending on the victims. However, as a lawyer that represents criminal accused my focus must necessarily be on the interests of my clients and their families.
These sorts of legal matters can be extremely difficult and stressful for the person under suspicion and for everyone else involved. To take just one example, spare a thought for the innocent family members of those charged with such offences. Often they have no idea what has been happening – their worlds are turned upside down when the police come knocking on the door.
Such matters have to be handled very delicately. The penalties can be very considerable. The default starting point is generally imprisonment, although it is possible for the court to suspend the sentence. Often other consequences – such as embarrassment, stigma, loss of employment, and the need to register on the Australian National Child Offender Register – can be even more serious.
If you are under suspicion for such an offence you should decline to answer all police questions (except for your name and other personal particulars). Do not admit anything. Do not deny anything. In fact do not submit to a police interview of any sort until you have spoken to a lawyer. It may well be that you agree to speak to the police at a later date, but do not do so without seeking legal advice first. This is no different than if you are suspected of any other offence. You can read another blog post about the importance of remaining silent by clicking here.
That having been said, more often than not the forensic realities (such as the contents of the accused person’s computer) result in matters like this being relatively “open and shut”. Most resolve by the defendant pleading guilty. If that is the case, it is still necessary for the matter to be handled very carefully. The time between arrest and sentencing – which can be lengthy, sometimes a year or more due to backlogs in the South Australia Police branch responsible for forensic analysis of computers – must be used properly. When a client of mine wishes to plead guilty to an offence of this sort, I arrange referrals to the correct psychologists and other treatment providers. Often a specialist treatment program run by the Department of Health can be commenced immediately.
These are the sorts of steps that will maximise the chances of a good outcome. More importantly though, they are steps that will hopefully assist to address what is a genuine mental health issue. Acknowledgment of a problem and taking steps to address it can be the turning point. A fresh start can be achieved.
Finally, can I note that we try our best not to be judgmental in matters like this. It is our job to represent you, to be on your side and to help you in whatever way that we can.
Please contact Dewar Legal on (08) 8311 3964 is you require expert advice or representation in this area.