What is a Community Impact Statement?
What is a Community Impact Statement, and how can it be used in the sentencing of online child sexual exploitation offences?
The purpose of a community impact statement is to bring to the court's attention how society as a whole is impacted by a crime type. It does not speak to the personalised experience of a victim, but to the wider, general consequences carried by a community due to an individual's criminal conduct.
It is a generally understood principle that in sentencing an offender, the sentence must adequately deter other citizens from engaging in similar offending. The judge is open to reflect on how a community is impacted by that offense, as part of that deterrence factor.
While the Foundation acknowledges that the court must take into account an offender's own history, their personal circumstances and their ability for rehabilitation (amongst other factors) in reaching an appropriate sentence, the sentencing process faces challenges in representing victim voices. In relation to online child exploitation offences, this issue can be exacerbated in the following ways:
- in child exploitation material, the victim may not be able to identified, or be located in another country;
- even if victims can be identified, an offender may have that many videos and images that mean bringing all victims into the sentencing process would be administratively burdensome;
- the victims are children, who may be at an age where they cannot create their own victim impact statement;
- statistically speaking, it is someone known to them that creates the abuse material, which means that guardians of victims may not be best placed to advocate for a child's voice;
- victims often carry enduring trauma related to creation of the abuse material - as adults they may still find it difficult to describe the impact of offences on their lives.
A Community Impact Statement is therefore able to speak, in general ways, about how victims of online child exploitation may experience the impact of the crime (such as ongoing mental health challenges, the worry of not knowing who has seen the abuse material, the knowledge that their abuse material may be used to groom other children, etc). Additionally, a Community Impact Statement can also speak on the economic consequences of this crime, for example:
- administering justice and rehabilitation programs for offenders;
- ongoing therapy costs for victims;
- lost productivity/opportunities for victims as they manage the mental health consequences of the crime (i.e work absenteeism or inability to maintain employment);
- impact on government institutions and civil society organisations in supporting victims, financially or otherwise;
- the secondary trauma stress of law enforcement and judicial officers in investigating and prosecuting child exploitation offences.
Beyond providing context for sentencing judges, a Community Impact Statement can also educate prosecutors, defence and even offenders in understanding the wider consequences of online child exploitation. There still remains a great number of people within the community who view this as a 'victimless' crime as there was no 'contact' offending, especially amongst offenders (who need to devalue the experience of the victim in order to perpetrate the crime). Offenders may also fail to see their role in being of the supply/demand chain in feeding this 'industry'. In this respect, a Community Impact Statement has a greater educational and awareness-raising function, that challenges the viewpoint of it being 'victimless'.