Editorial: Tougher porn penalties long overdue

17:00, May 29 2013

On Monday, Justice Minister Judith Collins announced the introduction of a bill to increase the penalties for the production, distribution and possession of child pornography.

That same day, according to estimates by the United Nations, about 200 new images of children being raped, sexually abused and tortured were circulated around the world.

The Objectionable Publications and Indecency Legislation Bill prepared by Ms Collins will not stop that evil trade. It will, however, help to curb it in New Zealand by putting repeat offenders where they belong - behind bars.

Contrary to the pathetic excuses offered by some who have been caught with child pornography in this country, possessing, viewing and distributing it is not a "victimless" crime. By definition, its production relies on the sexual abuse and exploitation of children.

Without a demand for images of those sickening acts, that abuse would not occur. Sending the strongest possible deterrent to those who trade in it will help reduce that demand.

Despite the fact child pornography causes such misery, New Zealand courts have shown an inexplicable reluctance to take those who indulge in it out of circulation.

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According to Ms Collins, only about one in three who are convicted are jailed. Her bill will help address that by creating a presumption of imprisonment for anyone convicted of a second or subsequent offence.

It will also double the maximum penalty for the possession, import or export of child pornography from five years' jail to 10 years and increase the maximum for distributing or producing such material from 10 years to 14.

The bill will also expand the definition of possessing child pornography so that it includes people who view it on their computers, but do not download the images. That will close a loophole that has allowed some offenders to get away scot-free.

Finally, it will tackle the scourge of adults who use the internet and cell and smart phone technology to groom young people for sex by making it an offence to have indecent communications with anyone aged under 16.

Together with a second bill that will allow the victims of serious sexual and violent offences to have their attackers banned from contacting them or living or working near them, Ms Collins has prepared a suite of changes that will go a long way towards protecting society's most vulnerable victims.

However, the Government must also put its money where its mouth is. The same day Ms Collins unveiled her intention to get tougher on offenders, sexual violence agencies warned they were struggling to help victims because of funding constraints.

In some cases, young rape victims are waiting up to three months to see a counsellor, depriving them of an important aspect of their recovery from major trauma.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has ordered a nationwide review into where funding for such services comes from, and where it actually goes. Like the measures Ms Collins is proposing, that work cannot be completed soon enough.

The Dominion Post