Sex Offenders Register – Breaching reporting obligations

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Bill DoogueThe article Suspension of reporting obligations under the Sex Offenders Registration Act 2004 – What are the benefits? is written by Bill Doogue, Director, Accredited Criminal Law Specialist, Doogue + George Defence Lawyers.

Bill is a director of the operations of Doogue + George. He has been an accredited criminal law specialist ever since 1998 and has over 30 years of experience in criminal defence.

Over the years, Bill's legal expertise has allowed the firm to represent numerous clients - including high ranking church officials, state and federal politicians, as well as huge corporations which sometimes involve foreign jurisdictions. His excellence in the field earned him a Law Institute of Victoria Service Award in 2013 and the title of Preeminent Criminal Defence Lawyer in the Doyle’s Guide 2023.

Hand Holding a PenI was one day late in reporting my new job to the Register. I had a lot going on at the time – my father was really unwell, I was changing anxiety medication, and I was feeling stressed about adjusting to a new workplace. When I was charged with breaching my reporting obligations, and dragged before the courts again, I felt like I was on the edge of a breakdown.

Under the Sex Offenders Registration Act 2004 (the Act), certain offenders who commit sexual offences are required to keep the police informed of their whereabouts and other personal details.1 According to section 1 of the Act, this is required in order to ‘reduce the likelihood that they will re-offend’ and to ‘facilitate the investigation and prosecution of any future offences that they may commit’.

It’s a good idea in theory.

Everyone wants to stop sex offenders from committing further offences. Everyone wants the police to be able to investigate and prosecute sex crimes. But forcing people to report details of their lives within arbitrary time frames, and consistently prosecuting them if they just miss the due date, simply does not assist in protecting the sexual safety of the community.

Registered sex offenders have to report the tiniest changes in personal details. Changed the spelling of your name on Facebook? Report it. Added another symbol to your tattooed arm? Report it. Work has asked you to send emails off a new email address? Report it.

The police will not care if a registered offender forgot, or was confused about their obligations, or made a genuine mistake. They will charge them for breaching their obligations, and a single breach carries a maximum of 2 or 5 years imprisonment (depending on the breach). In very limited circumstances, an offender can argue that they had a ‘reasonable excuse’ for not complying,2 but this usually only applies if the offender has a serious disability that affects their understanding of their obligations, or if they were never told about their obligations.

A case study: One of my clients was put on the Register for 8 years for indecent exposure. He exposed his genitals in public, and this happened in front of a minor, so it was classified as an indecent act with a child under 16. The client served his sentence for the offending, which included participating in an 18 month of sex offender program, which educated him on the destructive nature of his behaviour and the impact it would have had on his victim.

Four years after being placed on the Register, he went on a two-day holiday interstate for his birthday. He told the police his intended date of departure and date of return. For all intents and purposes, the police knew exactly when he was coming back. My client didn’t realise that he also needed to report his return to the police after he came back.

He was charged with breaching his obligations.

My other client was a young man with a mild cognitive impairment who forgot to report a new tattoo. He was also charged.

Another client with serious mental health issues started a new job, and told the police 8 days later, one day outside the reporting period. He was charged, and suffered a breakdown because of it.

All these people were trying to move on with their lives. They had served their sentences, they were employed, they had families. They had all been assessed by their psychologists as posing a low-risk or no risk to the sexual safety of the community. It is difficult to see how charging them with minor breaches of their reporting obligations reduced the likelihood of further sexual offending.

Complying with reporting obligations is made even harder if the registered offender is battling with mental health issues, homelessness, domestic violence, drug addiction or disability. A minor breach is almost inevitable if you have serious concerns about your health or safety, because naturally these will take precedence.

For those Registered Offenders concerned about breaching their reporting obligations, there is some advice you can follow:

  1. Read the latest version of Part 3 of the Sex Offenders Registration Act (2004). You can find that on Victoria Law Today .
  2. If you are not sure about whether a change in personal details needs to be reported, report it anyway. For example: changing your name on Facebook, from ‘Jessica’ to ‘Jess’.
  3. Report via email so you have a written record.
  4. If you have a poor memory, ask a family member if they can help you remember.

We all want to protect the sexual safety of our society, and we all want to be living in a community where we feel safe. Prosecuting offenders for small breaches of their reporting obligations will never achieve that aim – it just costs time, money and stress for all involved.

If you want to learn more about the Sex Offender Registry, you can read our ebook “Understanding the Sex Offender Registration Act“.

[1] Sex Offenders Registration Act 2004 Section 1(1)
[2] Sex Offenders Registration Act 2004 Section 4 (2)

Date Published: 7 February 2019

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