Sentencing Spotlight on maintaining an unlawful sexual relationship with a child

Media statement

31 August 2022

Latest sentencing data from the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council shows that over 900 offenders have been found guilty of maintaining an unlawful sexual relationship with a child in Queensland between 2005–06 to 2020–21.

The Council’s latest Sentencing Spotlight on maintaining an unlawful sexual relationship with a child examines 16 years of sentencing data for 801 cases where maintaining an unlawful sexual relationship with a child was the most serious offence.

Mr John Robertson, former judge and Chair of the Council, said that the new findings shed light of one of Queensland’s most serious offences.

‘Maintaining an unlawful sexual relationship with a child involves committing more than one unlawful sexual act against a child over a period of time,’ Mr Robertson said.

‘The level of lasting harm this offence causes children is immeasurable, which is why it can attract a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and is the most likely offence to be declared as a serious violent offence.’

Being subject to a serious violent offence declaration means the offender has to serve 80 per cent of their sentence in custody before being eligible to apply for release on parole.

According to the Sentencing Spotlight, all offenders received a custodial penalty, with an average sentence of 7.4 years. Over twenty percent of cases resulted in a sentence of 10 years or more and attracted a serious violent offence declaration.

‘There are a number of factors considered for the actual sentence handed down by the courts,’ Mr Robertson said.

‘These include the vulnerability of the victim, the nature and duration of offending, and the relationship between the offender and the victim.’

Almost all (98%) of offenders sentenced for this offence were male, with an average age of 38 years. Over three-quarters were sentenced for other sexual offences at the same time.

The average duration of offending was 3 years, although the report found that this varied greatly, from less than a year up to 13 years.

The Spotlight also found that 36.5 per cent of cases were domestic violence offences.

‘To prove the offence of maintaining, it does not matter whether the offending took place over a brief period or was sustained over several years,’ Mr Robertson said.

‘A jury only needs to be satisfied that more than one unlawful sexual act occurred between the adult offender and child victim.’

This captures a wide range of acts, including those that can be charged as carnal knowledge with or of children under 16, incest, rape and indecent treatment of children under 16.

Mr Robertson also acknowledged that the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce had recently called for the name of this offence—maintaining a sexual relationship with a child—to be reviewed, with many victims and survivors finding the current language used to be offensive.

The Council’s Sentencing Spotlight on maintaining an unlawful sexual relationship with a child is the latest report in the Council’s Sentencing Spotlight series, which presents Queensland-specific data on sentencing outcomes for a variety of different offences.

The Council will release a Sentencing Spotlight on rape in September 2022.


Media inquiries

Steph Martlew
Senior Media and Engagement Officer
0459 887 077 /  (07) 3738 9501


Media notes
  • In other Australian jurisdictions, legislative changes have recently been made to the name of this offence excluding the term ‘relationship’. Tasmania changed the name to ‘persistent sexual abuse of a child’, the ACT proposes to change the offence of engaging in a ‘sexual relationship with child or young person under special care’ to ‘persistent sexual abuse of child or young person under special care’.

Contact: Steph Martlew

Phone: 37389501

Email: stephanie.martlew@sentencingcouncil.qld.gov.au