Behind the scenes
It’s an issue no-one wants to talk about, but online child exploitation is on the increase – and Australia has some of the most prolific offenders. In May, research released by UTS advocacy centre Anti- Slavery Australia (ASA) threw a spotlight on the matter, revealing that flaws in the legislation can make it very difficult to prosecute those responsible.
It’s the first national analysis of law and policy addressing the production and dissemination of child exploitation material.
“People think it’s something that happens to very few people and generally overseas, which is just not the case,” says Gemma Livingston, national pro bono coordinator at law firm Norton Rose Fulbright (NRF). Livingston, who has a background in prosecuting these offences, was one of 24 NRF solicitors who contributed to the ASA report, assisted by firm partner Helene Lee and special counsel Nicki Milionis.
The Behind the Screen report, which took 18 months to compile, reviews legislation and international treaties, plus sentencing, court procedures and the role of internet service providers. “It’s the first national analysis of law and policy addressing the production and dissemination of child exploitation material,” says Professor Jennifer Burn. The director of ASA, Burn has spent the last 18 years campaigning for policy reform and providing legal advice to victims of forced labour, domestic servitude and human trafficking.
Her team helped draft the NSW Modern Slavery Act, which passed in June and increases penalties for cybersex trafficking. In another sign the issue is gaining traction, the federal government recently launched the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation, a law-enforcement group that collaborates with government agencies and non-profits, including ASA.
Burn’s team is currently working with NRF to produce a follow-up report that will review these changes. Part of the Faculty of Law, ASA is supported by patron Judith Neilson AM and is made up of six researchers, lawyers, secondees and students, who work closely with other non-profits, social workers and law firms. “It’s such a small but vital team and the more research we can provide, the more they can use their resources for other things,” says Livingston.
ASA is at the forefront of the anti-slavery movement in Australia. “They were fighting modern slavery in Australia before people appreciated it was an issue,” she says. “And being at UTS, they are uniquely placed to provide very specific expertise, as well as bring in media attention and make sure people are aware this isn’t just an overseas issue.”
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