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Heavy penalities: law changes aim to protect children by clamping down on child sexual abuse material

Posted on 30 April 2015 by Henry

The Classification Office was set up under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, which is the basis for New Zealand's classification system. Most people associate our work with age-restricting entertainment content like movies and games, less well known is that we classify images and video clips depicting the sexual exploitation and abuse of children and young people. We're responsible for determining whether or not this material is objectionable (banned), and we use the same classification criteria as we do for movies, games and other publications.

Parliament recently passed some important amendments to the Classification Act and these come into force on May 7, 2015. The purpose of these changes is to strengthen and clarify parts of the law that deal with child sexual abuse material.

The maximum penalty for possessing objectionable material has risen from 5 to 10 years imprisonment. The maximum penalty for making, distributing, supplying, importing or exporting this material has risen from 10 to 14 years. These offences can apply to all kinds of objectionable material, including a banned movie or book for example. However the Classification Act states that child sexual abuse material is an 'aggravating factor' for the purposes of sentencing - in other words, cases involving this type of objectionable material may lead to relatively higher sentences for offenders. The increase in penalties is designed as a deterrence for people who might engage in this type of offending.

There is now a presumption of imprisonment for people who are repeatedly convicted of offences involving objectionable material, but only in circumstances where this material:

  • promotes or supports, or tends to promote or support, the exploitation of children, or young persons, or both, for sexual purposes;
  • describes, depicts, or otherwise deals with sexual conduct with or by children, or young persons, or both;
  • exploits the nudity of children, or young persons, or both.
From the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification (Objectionable Publications) Amendment Act 2015

The amendments also clarify the meaning of 'possession' in relation to an electronic publication (in other words a computer file):

A person can have an electronic publication in that person's possession... even though that person's actual or potential physical custody or control of the publication is not, or does not include, that person intentionally or knowingly using a computer or other electronic device to save the publication (or a copy of it).

From the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification (Objectionable Publications) Amendment Act 2015

Whenever someone views something on the internet there will be a record of them doing so, and the files they have viewed can be retrieved. The section above makes it clear that viewing objectionable image or video files online counts as 'possession' of those files, even if someone doesn't click 'save/download' in order to store them for later viewing. This section applies to any computer files, but its purpose is to ensure that those intentionally viewing objectionable child sexual abuse material online cannot claim as a defence that they do not have possession of this material.

Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or concerns about these law changes, or about other aspects of the classification system.

Henry works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. His views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members - they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Cover of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act

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