THE Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse will investigate the adequacy of sentences for child sex offenders after a damning assessment of the case of Scout leader and Hunter Aboriginal Children’s Services chief Steven Larkins.
The commission will consider whether good behaviour bonds are ‘‘an appropriate punishment for the sexual assault of a child’’, counsel assisting Gail Furness, SC, said in written submissions on the Larkins case.
In 2012 Larkins was sentenced to a minimum 12 months’ jail for fraud and possessing child pornography, but received a good behaviour bond for indecently assaulting two Scouts in the 1990s.
Ms Furness said the Royal Commission will be examining the criminal justice system’s handling of child sex abuse in institutions because of material examined during the Larkins case and other material before it.
In 2000 notorious Hunter paedophile priest John Denham received a two-year suspended sentence for sexually assaulting a teenager. It was not until 2010 that he was jailed for sex offences against more than 40 boys and teenagers.
The Larkins case, the subject of the first public hearing by the Royal Commission, provided damning evidence of systemic failings in the NSW Police Force, the Department of Community Services, the Commission for Children and Young People, Hunter Aboriginal Children’s Services and the Scouts movement in Australia.
‘‘This case study has provided important insights into how and why a person about whom there were concerns since the early 1990s, remained as a Scout Leader, evaded a State-run vetting process designed to expose him, escaped early prosecution, obtained employment in a non-government agency charged with providing a safe place for children – which itself was under the close scrutiny of the State – and was allowed to be the carer of a young person,’’ Ms Furness said.
In future case studies and hearings the Royal Commission will examine how police respond to child sex abuse allegations.
The Larkins case had already raised systemic issues in the NSW Police Force about the required skill and experience of police officers assigned to child sexual assault, the tracking of reports of child sex offences, the timeliness of child sex investigations and communication with victims and their families, Ms Furness said.
‘‘Substantial’’ delays in the police investigation and misinformation by police influenced the two victims to request that the prosecution of Larkins not proceed in 1998, Ms Furness said in her submission.
The Larkins case also heard damning evidence about DoCS failures that ‘‘facilitated’’ Larkins to conceal a negative risk assessment about him, and the Commission for Children and Young People’s failure to check the veracity of statements by Larkins.
The Royal Commission will also be examining the oversight of non-government institutions providing out of home care as a result of the Larkins case.