A Cambodian victim of an Australian child sexual abuse offender has launched a claim for compensation through the Australian courts, in the first case of its kind.
In January, 47-year-old Australian Geoffrey William Moyle pleaded guilty to 11 offences, eight of which related to the sexual abuse of children overseas aged between 10 and 12. The eight offences occurred in Cambodia between 2002 and 2005.
Moyle is awaiting sentencing in the South Australian district court. He is next expected to appear in court in March.
While commonwealth law includes a provision for a victim of child sexual abuse outside Australia to claim compensation, it has never been used.
In January, commonwealth prosecutor Edward Stratton-Smith told an Adelaide court the decision whether to award compensation would be “of national significance”.
Practical and legal challenges make it extremely difficult for victims overseas to claim compensation from abusers. It is rare for police to be able to identify and locate victims, often many years after physical contact occurred.
For abuse victims to apply for reparations, the offender must have been convicted and compensation must be sought from the offender, who in many cases has few assets.
In Moyle’s case, investigators working with “international law enforcement partners”, according to a spokesperson for the South Australia police, were able to identify and locate the victims, one of whom is being represented free of charge by Jonathan Wells QC. Moyle has pleaded guilty, and has assets including a house in Adelaide, the ABC reported.
Dr Michael Salter, the Scientia associate professor of criminology at the University of New South Wales and chair of a national child sexual abuse material working group, said the decision was a “unique and important” one.
A not-for-profit put in “a tremendous amount of work” locally so that the victim was able to provide a victim impact statement in order for reparations to be possible, he said.
“I think we need to be realistic about just how difficult it is for victims overseas. And there are many, many victims,” he said.
Salter hopes that a successful application in this case will mean prosecutors make use of the reparations provision more often.
Dr Melissa Curley, a political science and international relations lecturer at the University of Queensland who has been researching the sexual exploitation of children in south-east Asia for a decade, said it would be “very significant” if the victim was granted compensation.
As well as setting a precedent, she said, it would “send a message that there is a recognition of the suffering and the harm done to victims by this type of offending”.
Figures for the extent of child sexual abuse by travellers in Cambodia are difficult to establish, but the Cambodian organisation Action Pour Les Enfants found that Australians made up 8% of 142 arrests of foreigners in cases of child sexual abuse offences by foreigners, the BBC reported.
In 2017, Australia introduced legislation requiring registered child sexual abuse offenders to apply for permission to travel overseas.
In 2019, a Swedish court ordered Ulf Christian Goransson, who was convicted of child sexual abuse and exploitation, to pay SEK 214,400 (US$25,778) to six Cambodian victims.
Both Curley and Salter stressed that compensation can be used by victims to pay for medical and psychological treatment, including trauma-informed counselling in countries where this is rarely available through the public health system.