Police in Scotland have come under fire for a recent report which referred to child sexual offenders as “minor-attracted people”, or MAPs.

The term was used in the nation’s Chief Constable Iain Livingstone in his annual report, and has been met by public backlash not just in Scotland, but throughout the United Kingdom and beyond.

Reasoning for terminology

Chief Constable Livingstone, who is Scotland’s highest ranking police officer, says the use of the term was meant to:

“… develop understanding and approach to avoid the victimisation of children by engaging Minor-Attracted People (MAPs) and providing them with the necessary support, treatment and guidance to help prevent criminal activities.”

According to him, actively avoiding terms such as paedophile which stigmatise child sexual offenders and thereby make it less likely they will reach out for help is against the interests of the community. By contrast, treating these people with respect and providing them with support services benefits society by reducing the prospects that they will reoffend.

He believes his use of the term ‘minor-attracted people’ and acronym MAPs has been “taken out of context”, and that a proper understanding of what law enforcement agencies are trying to achieve – namely, lowering the incidence of sexual offending against children – and the best way to achieve that objective – to support rather than stigmatise offenders – informs the reasons behind their use.

The difference between the terms “paedophile” and “child sexual offender”

And while the phrase ‘minor-attracted people’ appears to be a relatively recent invention, terms such as ‘paedophile’ and ‘child sexual offender’ have been around for a long time, often being incorrectly used interchangeably.

In that regard, a paedophile is defined as a person who is sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children, whether or not the person acts on that inclination. Indeed, such persons may go their whole lives without committing crimes against children.

A child sexual offender is someone who commits sexual offences against children, whether or not they are specifically attracted to children. And while it stands to reason that paedophiles are more likely to commit child sexual offences than those in the general population, opportunistic offenders and/or those who seek to exert power or control over our most vulnerable, or to engage in sadism, may also commit these heinous crimes.

Understanding the difference between the terms further calls into question the terminology used by Scotland’s chief law enforcement officer, as he seems to have mistakenly formed the view that child sexual offenders and ‘minor attracted people’ are one and the same.

The backlash

That said, the gist of the backlash is that to refer to child sex offenders as ‘minor-attracted people’ is to diminish the seriousness of their offending conduct, and to humanise them in an undeserving way.

In New South Wales within the Crimes Act, most offences are described as ‘sexual offences against children’ or child sex offences or child exploitation offences – the word paedophile is rarely used.

Child sexual offences in New South Wales

In New South Wales, child sexual offences are some of the most serious under the law and in some instances can attract maximum penalties of life imprisonment; and it is important to note that ‘life’ in our state means for the term of a person’s natural life.

Life imprisonment

An example is sexual intercourse with a child under the age of 10 years, which is an offence under section 66A(1) of the Crimes Act 1900.

This offence carries a maximum penalty of life in prison as well as a ‘standard non-parole period’ (or SNPP) of 15 years in prison. An SNPP is a guidepost or reference point for the court when it is deciding how long a person should spend behind bars before being eligible to apply for release on ‘parole’; which is conditional liberty.

Subsection 66A(2) expressly states that ‘A person sentenced to imprisonment for life for an offence under this section… [namely section 66A(1)] is to serve that sentence for the term of the person’s natural life.’

What sentences are actually handed-down?

According to the Judicial Commission of New South Wales, of the 76 cases recorded of offences under section 66A(1), 64 (84.2%) were sentenced to imprisonment while 12 (15.8%) received a community correction order (a type of good behaviour bond).

The mean total sentence was 9 years in prison while the mean non-parole period was 6 years in prison.

Mandatory reporting

In New South Wales, amendments introduced to the law in 2018 make it a crime to conceal a child abuse offence.

The laws were introduced after recommendations from the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse’s Criminal Justice Report.

The offence of concealing a child abuse offence

Concealing a child abuse offence is a crime under section 316A(1) of the Crimes Act 1900, which carries a maximum penalty of 2 years in prison where the maximum penalty for the offence concealed was less than 5 years, or 5 years in prison where the maximum penalty for the offence concealed was 5 years or more.

To establish the offence, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that:

  1. You were an adult,
  2. You knew, believed or ought reasonably have known that a child abuse offence had been committed,
  3. You knew, believed or ought reasonably have known that you had information which might be of material assistance to arrest, prosecute or convict the offender,
  4. You failed to bring the information to the attention of a NSW police officer as soon as practicable after you obtained it, and
  5. You had no reasonable excuse for your failure.

What is a child abuse offence?

The definition of ‘child abuse offence’ covers a wide range of crimes against persons under 18, including:

  1. Serious assaults,
  2. Sexual offences such as sexual assault, sexual touching, sexual act, grooming, procuring, child abuse material and child prostitution, and
  3. Failing in parental responsibilities to care for a child, as well as abandoning or exposing a child.

‘Information.. [of] material assistance’ is not defined by the Act, and is a matter of fact to be determined by the court.

You had a ‘reasonable excuse’ for not reporting the information to police if:

  1. You believed on reasonable grounds that police already had the information,
  2. You reported the information through other over legislative mechanisms such as those in the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998, or the Children’s Guardian Act 2019, or Part 3A of the Ombudsman Act 1974 before it was repealed, or you believed on reasonable grounds that another had reported it in that way,
  3. You had reasonable grounds to fear for the safety of any person if you were to report the information,
  4. You were under the age of 18 when you obtained the information,
  5. The alleged victim was an adult at the time you obtained the information, and you believed on reasonable grounds that he or she did not want it reported, or
  6. The information related to an assault at a school, and:
  • It resulted in no more than a minor injury,
  • The parties were both school students under the age of 18 years,
  • You were a member of staff at the school, and
  • You took reasonable steps to report the information.

The incident reporting unit in the case of a government school, or the principal or governing body in the case of a non-government school.

The reporting of information referred to in the section does not constitute unprofessional conduct or a breach of professional ethics, nor does it render you the subject of civil liability such as liability for defamation provided your reporting was in good faith.

A prosecution for the offence cannot be commenced without the DPP’s approval if the information was obtained through prescribed professions, callings or vocations, such as in the course of medical practice, legal practice or the practice of religion.

Duress is a legal defence to the charge.