On 27th July 2022, It’s a Penalty’s partner law firm Clayton Utz brought together eight individuals – representing law enforcement, academia, survivor advocacy, legal research and jurisprudence – to provide their perspectives on the need for urgent reform and a co-operative, targeted approach to tackle child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA) both in Australia and across the Pacific region. Hosted at Clayton Utz’ Sydney office, the event served as the Regional Launch for It’s a Penalty’s CommonProtect report.

The event was attended in person and virtually by members of government departments including Home Affairs, Education and the Attorney General’s Department, as well as the Human Rights Commission, not for profit organisations and various corporate and law firms.

The panel was moderated by Clayton Utz Special Counsel Mariam Azzo, who was a key contributor to the CommonProtect report, as well as Corporate partner Samy Mansour. Panellists at the launch event included:

    • The Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG, International jurist, Educator and former Judge;
    • Dr Michael Salter (Scientia Fellow and Associate Professor of Criminology at the University of New South Wales);
    • Commander Hilda Sirec (Manager, Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation);
    • Professor Jennifer Burn (Director, Anti-Slavery Australia);
    • Bernice Lata (Legal Rights Officer, Fiji Women’s Rights Movement);
    • Carol Ronken (Director of Research, Bravehearts);
    • Craig Hughes-Cashmore (Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse and CEO and Co-Founder of the Survivors & Mates Support Network);
    • Elise Gordon (Senior Research Analyst, Walk Free); and
    • a special address by the Commonwealth Secretary General, The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC.

Topics discussed included the prevalence of CSEA in Australia and the wider Asia-Pacific, the steps that can be taken to enhance the investigation, enforcement and prevention of CSEA, and what more governments and other stakeholders can do to help.

The findings throughout the report demonstrate that all Commonwealth countries can take steps to better protect children, whether through legal reform, improved implementation and enforcement, more comprehensive and fully-resourced child protection systems, or increased awareness and education—or all of the above.

As Mariam shared in her opening remarks, “Ultimately the aim of the CommonProtect project is to bring Commonwealth countries together in a shared purpose, to unite and collaborate to address CSEA, which is a truly harrowing issue. We know that we can eradicate CSEA, but we just haven’t tried hard enough yet and so there needs to be the political will, and every country needs to make it a priority with a targeted, consistent and hard-line approach. We can also educate ourselves, talk about the issue and continue to raise awareness. It’s an uncomfortable discussion to have – but we need to keep having it.