A Hunter Valley pastor is leading a push for legislative change for harsher penalties for people who fail to report child sexual abuse to police.
Pastor Bob Cotton from Maitland Christian Church says the current penalty for concealing a serious indictable offence – a maximum of two years’ imprisonment – is inadequate punishment for those who cover-up the sexual abuse of children.
Pastor Cotton said he was spurred into action after a close friend, who had been abused by Anglican church worker James Michael Brown in Kurri Kurri, died of drug and alcohol abuse.
“The ancillary offences do not fit the facts of the cases, and ‘conceal serious indictable offence’ does not reflect the criminality,” Pastor Cotton said.
“It is only a local court matter and frankly, it is an insult to the victims.
“This must change. It’s about bringing the criminals to justice, creating justice for victims and less victims in the future.”
Pastor Cotton said there needed to be a “cultural shift” in the church.
“Nobody’s used to ministers speaking up,” he said.
“Jesus wasn’t gutless, but a lot of ministers are – they are bound by their allegiance to the denominational hierarchy.
“What’s going on does not reflect the nature of Jesus Christ.
“They continue to heap abuse on the abused.
“I thank God for the royal commission. If it had not kicked off, some of this stuff would have just been swept under the carpet.”
Pastor Cotton has a solicitor working for him pro bono, who has engaged a team of law students to research the issues, and this work will lead to legislative submissions.
“It is starting to gather some momentum, now it’s time to get some groundswell in the community,” Pastor Cotton said.
“It will change the game if we can get some laws in to scoop up these people who cover up child sex assault.
“I don’t believe there will ever be justice for the victims until those who cover up child sex offences are treated the same as the perpetrators.”
Pastor Cotton said the Hunter Valley has become known as the epicentre for church child sex abuse in NSW.
With the royal commission coming to Newcastle next month, he said now was the time for people to come forward.
“If people are aware that people are covering up, they need to speak up,” he said.
“It starts with victims speaking up and decent ministers, Christians and church attenders encouraging them to do so.”
Pastor Cotton said he hoped harsher penalties would encourage people to do the right thing.
“Legislative change will be the dynamo behind it,” he said.
“If you’re staring down the barrel of 10-to-15 years in prison for covering up child offences, people are going to do the right thing and speak up.”
Pastor Cotton’s wife Angie, also a pastor, said the couple would not be silenced.
“We’re not going to go away,” she said.
“It’s about time good people stood up for those who are suffering.
“God knows how many hundreds or thousands of children’s lives have been destroyed.”
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will hold public hearings into the Anglican and Catholic churches in Newcastle in August.