Criminal Law Consolidation (Child-Like Sex Dolls Prohibition) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

I am pleased to introduce the Criminal Law Consolidation (Child-Like Sex Dolls Prohibition) Amendment Bill 2019. The bill was received in this place from the Legislative Council and was introduced there by the Hon. Ms Bonaros. I gladly move this bill as a government bill in the House of Assembly, as it seeks to deal with the troubling part of the child exploitation material industry and, more broadly, child sexual abuse.

The bill seeks to ban the production, dissemination and possession of childlike sex dolls. Childlike dolls are three dimensional, resemble children and have imitation orifices that are intended to be used for simulating sexual intercourse. There is an increasing need here in Australia and overseas in protecting the importation, possession and production of childlike sex dolls.

A recent article by the Australian Institute of Criminology suggests that, while there is a lack of robust evidence relating to child sex dolls, there is reason to suggest that the use of the dolls may lead to societal harms by desensitising the doll user to the harm caused by child sexual abuse. Currently, in Australia childlike dolls can be seized as objectionable goods under the commonwealth Customs Act 1901. However, where a doll is not seized by the commonwealth authorities at the time of importation, there is a gap in the current legislative scheme, which this bill would remedy, if passed.

The South Australian bill is similar to relevant provisions in the commonwealth Combatting Child Sexual Exploitation Legislation Amendment Bill 2019, which was introduced on 24 July 2019 and has passed the House of Representatives. The South Australian bill seeks to amend division 11A of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935, which creates offences relating to child exploitation material. The bill would put it beyond doubt that the childlike sex dolls fall within the definition of child exploitation material.

The bill creates offences of producing, disseminating or possessing a child sex doll with a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment. The bill contains amendments that are consequential upon the passage of the Statutes Amendment (Child Exploitation and Encrypted Material) Act 2019 and ensures that viewing an image of a childlike sex doll online will not amount to dealing with child exploitation material unless the image is of a pornographic nature. The bill also clarifies the distinction between the offences that involve pornographic images or representations of the dolls and the offences involving possessing, producing or disseminating actual dolls.

The bill also ensures that the new powers included in the Summary Offences Act 1953 by the Statutes Amendment (Child Exploitation and Encrypted Material) Act can be used in relation to all the child exploitation offences in division 11A of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act, not just the offences that involve actual children. The bill will not commence operation until the Statutes Amendment (Child Exploitation and Encrypted Material) Act commences operation.

In relation to the publication of an image of a childlike sex doll, members might have noticed, for example, when Mr Daniel Wills published an article in relation to this matter being in the parliament. A photographic image of a sex doll portraying a young girl with a teddy bear might have otherwise been caught by this legislation if we had ensured that this provision was in the legislation. In my office, I colloquially called it the 'Daniel Wills amendment'.

I think it is important to recognise that there are legitimate purposes by which images would be displayed or published and we need to make sure that child exploitation offences do not follow for innocent publication. The qualifying feature here must be, of course, that it cannot be of a pornographic nature. Quite obviously, in those circumstances, that would not be allowed and would fall foul of the proposed legislation.

The bill creates offences of producing, disseminating or possessing a child sex doll, with a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment. The bill contains amendments that are consequential upon the passage of the Statutes Amendment (Child Exploitation and Encrypted Material) Act 2019. The bill ensures that viewing an image of a child sex doll online will not amount to dealing with child exploitation material unless the image is of a pornographic nature. I make the point that that is going to be the qualifying aspect.

The protection of women and children is at the core of this government's law and order priority for protecting South Australians. To this end, we have passed a comprehensive suite of policies specifically aimed at protecting victims of domestic and sexual abuse—these have included the introduction of Carly's Law—which specifically target adult sexual predators who try to take advantage of children online. We have also introduced the domestic violence disclosure scheme, providing crucial information to those who may be at risk of domestic violence.

We have also passed stronger domestic violence laws, creating the new standalone offence of strangulation and tougher penalties for repeated breaches of intervention orders. The bill before the chamber is another example of how our laws must constantly evolve to stamp out any method of promoting the exploitation of children. The Marshall Liberal government agrees that these types of abhorrent products should not be on the market in South Australia.

I have just had brought to my attention a notice forwarded from Jeremy Malcolm, the Executive Director of Prostasia Foundation. He has urged the government, and maybe other members, to consider the adjournment or postponement of the introduction of this legislation in our house on the basis that there needs to be research done to identify whether or not this is meritorious. I do not agree with that—the government does not agree with that—but I think it is reasonable that I explain why this submission has been put.

Members can read a press release that Prostasia Foundation have issued in relation to special education children and the benefits in relation to these dolls, and I think it is important that we understand what it is. He writes to tell me this:

I am the Executive Director of Prostasia Foundation, a child protection organisation that works with the world's leading scientific experts on the prevention of sexual offending against children.

I write with reference to the SA-Best private member's bill to ban childlike sex dolls, which I understand is to be introduced into the lower house imminently. Of course, such dolls are creepy and disgusting to contemplate, and it is no wonder that there is a bipartisan desire to see them eliminated from society.

However, as a child protection organisation that works with special educators, our first priority is to stop sexual abuse. The special educators we work with insist that access to these dolls is essential as a tool to stop young adolescents with special needs from abusing their peers.

He encloses the press release. He goes on to say:

Of course, the ban is not intended to target adolescents with special needs, it is intended to target paedophiles. However, banning such dolls will not stop paedophiles from existing and having exactly the same thoughts that they do now. By taking away these dolls as a sexual outlet, experts speculate that paedophiles may be more likely to act out their wrongful desires against real children. That is why, despite our disgust at the existence of these dolls, they are a much lesser evil than the sexual abuse that they might prevent.

It is true that more research is needed into whether these dolls are helpful or harmful: whether they will reduce or increase offending against actual children. All that we ask is that you postpone the introduction of the legislation into the lower house until the research can be done. We will be presenting with sex researcher Craig Harper on this topic at the 2019 conference of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers.

Additionally, we have written to the United States Congress about similar bans that have been proposed by Republican lawmakers in the United States. (Although Prostasia Foundation is incorporated in the United States, I am Australian, we have members from South Australia and we do operate in both countries.) I am attaching a copy of that letter also.

He then goes on to state:

Please take the views of child protection experts seriously: sex dolls that appear underage may be disgusting to contemplate, but they could be an important tool in the fight against sexual abuse of real children. On behalf of myself and the prevention experts that I work with, I urgently ask you to postpone introduction of this bill until more is known about the effects of these dolls.

Obviously, there is an invitation to contact and discuss it further. The government's position is that there is a case to prohibit these dolls, which really attaches the extension of the commonwealth laws to deal with the importation that may not be caught. There may not be an opening of the container that has these in it at Port Melbourne's port; therefore, we need to cover this.

We agree with the Hon. Connie Bonaros from another place that there is merit in progressing this now. Some evidence may come forward in due course to suggest that there may be some therapeutic advantage for the use of these dolls, but let me say that we have a very different situation in relation to these dolls compared with ordinary dolls. I want to make this point because the issue in relation to these dolls is that they do have quite explicit genitalia and they do have orifices. These are not ordinary dolls.

When we use dolls, for example, to help children in a case of alleged child sexual abuse against them, where they might be asked to indicate where they might have been touched, these are not sex dolls. We are talking about an entirely different product. For the purpose of either being useful in some diagnostic or therapeutic sense or down the track if there is some evidence for their use in relation to special needs young people to try to help them manage their behaviour and not offend against other young people, then let's look at it if it comes, but at present we agree this matter needs to be dealt with.

From our point of view, we confirm that this is an example of how our parliament can work together on an important child protection issue such as this. I commend the Hon. Connie Bonaros for bringing this issue to light. I commend the bill.