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Possession of Child Abuse Material

Do the Police want to speak with you about Possession of Child Abuse Material? The Police will normally come to your home or place of work, unannounced, with a search warrant. They will seize your computer, tablet, mobile phone and other electronic devices. Call us when the Police arrive so we can speak with them and help you through this stressful period.

Police interviews
We can help you by giving you advice in confidence. We can advise you what your rights are when dealing with the Police. We can also advise you how to handle a Police interview. You may want to know – should I make a statement to Police? Should I attend a Police interview? Do I need to give my computer? Do I need to give my mobile phone? Will I be remanded? We can answer all these questions for you, so you are clear on your rights.
 
Child on Magazine
We specialise in these sorts of matters and know what evidence the Police are looking for to secure your conviction.

Our lawyers often attend Police interviews with our clients to support and assist them.

Being accused of Possession of Child Abuse Material can have other consequences. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services may investigate. The Police may apply for a Family Violence Protection Order preventing you from seeing your children. Our lawyers can advise you about all these things so you can properly deal with them.

A finding of guilty to Possession of Child Abuse Material can lead to an immediate prison sentence. Possession of Child Abuse Material conviction on a criminal history can have a lasting effect.

Pleading not guilty
Our lawyers know how to probe the Police investigation. We know what questions to ask.

  1. what was found on the computer or mobile phone?
  2. Is the material ‘Child Abuse Material’?
  3. How do the Police prove you put it on the device?
The answer to these questions can lead to a charge of Possession of Child Abuse Material being withdrawn before a trial or an acquittal after a trial.

Pleading guilty
If you decide to plead guilty to Possession of Child Abuse Material, we can represent you at your plea hearing. We know how to prepare pleas of guilty and can guide you through this process to get the best outcome. We are experienced with these sorts of matters and know what works.
 
  • Contact an expert in charges of Possession of Child Abuse Material on (03) 9670 5111.
  • We provide a free first phone conference.
  • Download our free booklet to learn more about the Investigation and Court process.
This charge will usually be dealt with in the County Court.
 
Examples of Possession of child abuse material
  • You download a large amount of pornographic images from a website onto your computer. Some of the images depict 16 and 17 year olds engaging in sexual activity.
What is the legal definition of Possession of child abuse material?
A person commits an offence if they knowingly possess child abuse material.

Legislation
The law for this charge can be found on section 51G of the Crimes Act 1958.

Possession of Child Abuse Material
  1. A person (A) commits an offence if A knowingly possesses child abuse material.
  2. A person who commits an offence against subsection (1) is liable to level 5 imprisonment (10 years maximum).
  3. For the purposes of subsection (1), A possesses child abuse material that is electronic material if A controls access to the material whether or not A has physical possession of the electronic material.
  4. It is immaterial that the electronic material was outside Victoria, so long as A was in Victoria at the time at which some or all of the conduct constituting an offence against subsection (1) occurred.
  5. It is immaterial that A was outside Victoria at the time at which some or all of the conduct constituting an offence against subsection (1) occurred, so long as the electronic material was in Victoria.1
Elements of the offence
For an accused to be proven guilty of the offence of Possession of Child Abuse Material, the prosecution must prove the following beyond reasonable doubt:

  1. The person knowingly…
  2. Was in possession of…
  3. Child abuse material
1) Did the accused ‘knowingly’ possess the material?
It is necessary for the accused to have knowingly possessed the child abuse material. The term “knowingly” possess has not yet been determined precisely in Victoria. Using common sense, it requires some knowledge on the part of the accused. Therefore, mere advertence would not be sufficient.

“Can they prove you knowingly possessed the child abuse material?”
2) Was the accused actually in possession of the material?
Possession is not defined in the Act and takes the form of the common law definition. Common law possession involves the physical control with an intent to possess.

Conduct element: This requires the Prosecution to prove that the accused had physical custody or control over the pornographic material. A person does not need to be carrying the material on their person to satisfy this element. They do however have to have custody or control over it. It is not uncommon for material to be forgotten about and found to be in a person’s room whilst a warrant is executed for unrelated matter. In the first instance, a bedroom is a location where a person has manual custody and in the second. Once a person has possession of an item, that possession remains alive until the item possessed is disposed of. This is said to be in their custody and within their control.

Mental element: A person will generally not have an intention to possess material that is automatically downloaded from the Internet onto his or her computer. Some webpages on the internet may expose a person to this type of downloading behaviour. A person will therefore generally not be guilty of possession of child pornography if s/he simply browses Internet sites which contain pornographic images. In such a situation an intention to possess is absent. Note that in cases where child abuse material is electronic, possession means access to the electronic material regardless of whether the accused had physical possession of said material.

3) Was the material ‘child abuse material’?
‘Child abuse material’ means material that:

  • depicts or describes—
    • a person who is, or who appears or is implied to be, a child—
      • As a victim of torture, cruelty or physical abuse (whether or not the torture, cruelty or abuse is sexual); or
      • As a victim of sexual abuse; or
      • Engaged in, or apparently engaging in, a sexual pose or sexual activity (whether or not in the presence of another person); or
      • In the presence of another person who is engaged in, or apparently engaged in, a sexual pose or sexual activity; or
        1. the genital or anal region of a person who is, or who appears or is implied to be, a child; or
        2. the breast area of a person who is, or who appears or is implied to be, a female child; and
    • reasonable persons would regard as being, in the circumstances, offensive
Geographical considerations
It is irrelevant if the electronic child abuse material was outside the state of Victoria as long as the accused was in Victoria at the time the offending took place. The opposite also does not matter where the accused was outside Victoria as long as the electronic child abuse material was in Victoria at the time the offence was committed.


[1] Australian legal Information Institute. “Crimes Act 1958 – Section 51G: Possession of child abuse material.” Austlii.edu.au. http://classic.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/vic/consol_act/ca195882/s51g.html (accessed June 22, 2020).
 
What are some of the possible defences to Possession of Child Abuse Material?
A mistaken but honest and reasonable belief that reasonable persons would not regard the child abuse material as offensive is not a defence to this offence.1

The defences which apply to this offence are contained in 51L, 51N, 51O, 51P, 51Q, 51R and 51T of the Crimes Act 1958.

Defence of artistic merit or public benefit – Section 51L

  1. It is a defence to a charge of Possession of Child Abuse Material if:
    1. the material-
      1. was not produced with the involvement of a person who was, at the time it was produced, under the age of 18 years; and
      2. possesses artistic merit; or
    2. the material is of public benefit.
For further details, see section 51L.

Defence applying to children – Section 51N

  1. It is a defence to a charge for an offence against section 51G(1) if:
    1. A is a child; and
    2. the child abuse material is an image; and
    3. the image depicts one or more persons (whether or not it depicts A); and
    4. the image—
      1. does not depict an act that is a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment; or
      2. depicts an act that is a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment but A reasonably believes that it does not; and
    5. at the time of the conduct constituting the offence—
      1. A was not more than 2 years older than the youngest child depicted in the image; or
      2. A reasonably believed that they were not more than 2 years older than the youngest child depicted in the image.
For further details, see section 51N.

Defence – image of oneself – Section 51O

  1. It is a defence to a charge for an offence against section 51G(1) if—
    1. the child abuse material is an image; and
    2. the image depicts A as a child; and
    3. the image does not depict A committing a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment; and
    4. A does not distribute the image to any other person.
For further details, see section 51O.

Defence – accused not more than 2 years older than 16- or 17-year old child and acts with child’s consent – Section 51P

  1. It is a defence to a charge for an offence against section 51G(1) if—
    1. the child abuse material is an image; and
    2. at the time at which the image was first made, the child (B) whose depiction in the image makes it child abuse material—
      1. was aged 16 or 17 years; and
      2. was not, or had not been, under A’s care, supervision or authority; and
    3. the image does not depict an act that is a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment; and
    4. A does not distribute the image to any person other than B; and
    5. A is not more than 2 years older than B; and
    6. at the time of the conduct constituting the offence, A reasonably believed that B consented to that conduct.
For further details, see section 51P.

Defence – marriage or domestic partnership – Section 51Q

  1. It is a defence to a charge for an offence against section 51G(1) if—
    1. the child abuse material is an image; and
    2. the image is a child abuse material because of its depiction of another person (B); and
    3. the image does not depict a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment; and
    4. A does not distribute the image to any person other than B; and
    5. at the time at which the image was first made—
      1. B was 16 or 17 years of age; and
      2. either A and B were married to each other and the marriage was recognised as valid under the Marriage Act 1961 of the Commonwealth, or A was B’s domestic partner and was no more than 2 years older than B; and
      3. where A was B’s domestic partner, if B was under A’s care, supervision or authority, the domestic partnership commenced before B came under A’s care, supervision or authority; and
    6. at the time of the conduct constituting the offence—
      1. either A and B were married to each other and the marriage was recognised as valid under the Marriage Act 1961 of the Commonwealth, or A was B’s domestic partner and was no more than 2 years older than B; and
      2. A reasonably believed that B consented to the conduct constituting the offence.
For further details, see section 51Q.

Defence – reasonable belief in marriage or domestic partnership – Section 51R

  1. It is a defence to a charge of an offence against section 51G(1) if—
    1. the child abuse material is an image; and
    2. the image is child abuse material because of its depiction of another person (B); and
    3. the image does not depict a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment; and
    4. A does not distribute the image to any person other than B; and
    5. at the time at which the image was first made, A reasonably believed that—
      1. B was 16 or 17 years of age; and
      2. either A and B were married to each other and that the marriage was recognised as valid under the Marriage Act 1961 of the Commonwealth, or A was B’s domestic partner and was no more than 2 years older than B; and
      3. where A was B’s domestic partner, if B was under A’s care, supervision or authority, the domestic partnership commenced before B came under A’s care, supervision or authority; and
    6. at the time of the conduct constituting the offence, A reasonably believed that—
      1. either A and B were married to each other and that the marriage was recognised as valid under the Marriage Act 1961 of the Commonwealth or A was B’s domestic partner and was no more than 2 years older than B; and
      2. B consented to that conduct.
For further details, see section 51R.

Defence – unsolicited possession – Section 51T

It is a defence to a charge of an offence against section 51G(1) for A to prove on the balance of probabilities that—

  1. A did not intentionally come into possession of child abuse material; and
  2. on becoming aware of having come into possession of child abuse material, A, as soon as it was practicable to do so, took all reasonable steps in the circumstances to cease possessing the material.
For further details, see section 51T.

Aside from the above mentioned defences, general defences can include but are not limited to sudden or extraordinary emergency, involuntary act, and lack of intent. Other defences such as a factual dispute, wrongful identification, mental impairment, necessity or duress may also apply.

Questions in cases like this
  • Did you know that you were in possession of the child abuse material?
  • Did you have access to the material?
  • Was the material actually child abuse material?
 
This charge may lead to a level 5 imprisonment (10 years maximum) if the accused is proven guilty.
 
Sentencing in the higher courts
To view sentencing decisions by Victorian County Courts for child pornography and grooming offences, visit this page.

Sentencing in the Magistrates’ Courts
Sentencing Statistics Pie Chart for Knowingly Possess Child Abuse Material in the Magistrates' Courts Please note that suspended sentences were abolished in Victoria for all offences committed on or after 1 September 2014.