What Is a Sex Offence in Queensland? Laws, Definitions & Penalties

Criminal Law

A sex offence in Queensland refers to unlawful behaviours involving non-consensual sexual acts or unlawful sexual conduct.

Understanding the breadth of what’s included under this umbrella is critical whether you’re looking to inform yourself, seeking help, or curious about the legal landscape.

So, what is a sex offence in Queensland?

The forthcoming sections unpack the definitions, required standards of consent, ramifications of committing such offences, and the judicial route these cases follow in the Queensland legal system.

Key Takeaways

  • Sexual offences in Queensland encompass a broad range of non-consensual acts including rape, sexual assault, and other indecent acts, with a particular emphasis on the nature of consent and its conditions.
  • Queensland law imposes stringent penalties for sexual offences, with maximum sentences ranging from two years for indecent acts to life imprisonment for rape and aggravated sexual assault, depending on the severity and circumstances.
  • Recent changes to the Queensland criminal law, effective from October 3, 2023, allow public identification of alleged sex offenders before committal, aligning with legislation in other Australian jurisdictions and aiming to protect and prioritise victims.

What is a sexual offence in Queensland?

According to the Queensland Criminal Code, a variety of unlawful activities, including rape, sexual assault, and other indecent acts, are covered under sexual offences.

These offences typically involve unwanted sexual contact, ranging from physical touch to sexualised speech without the consent of the other party. The term ‘prescribed sexual offence’ refers to these aforementioned offences, underlining their severity as per Queensland legislations. Among these, sexual offences are considered some of the most underreported criminal offences.

Additionally, the code deems it unlawful to coerce another person into committing or witnessing an act of gross indecency without their consent.

Types of Sex Offences in Queensland

Queensland criminal law recognises a broad spectrum of behaviours as sexual offences, which includes not only acts like rape and sexual assault but also any sexual conduct that is forced upon someone without their consent.

Below are the different types of sexual offences and their penalties.


Under Queensland law, rape is considered one of the most severe sexual offences. It involves non-consensual penile intercourse or penetration of bodily openings with a body part or object, or non-consensual penetration of the mouth with a penis.

In cases involving a child under 12 years of age, any sexual act is automatically considered non-consensual, making it a case of rape under the law.

The severity of this offence is reflected in its potential punishment, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Even attempts to commit rape are viewed gravely, attracting a maximum sentence of up to 14 years imprisonment.

Sexual Assault

Sexual assault, which is another significant category of sexual offences in Queensland, involves non-consensual sexual actions like unwanted touching. This can also involve a range of behaviours like the use of sexualised speech without consent, or a threat of unwanted sexual contact.

Furthermore, the law recognises touching of an individual’s genitals, buttocks, or thighs as sexual assault if the act lacks mutual consent. Even forcing a person to witness or engage in an indecent act, without their consent, is classified as sexual assault.

For sexual assault without aggravating circumstances, the maximum penalty is ten years imprisonment. However, if there are aggravating circumstances in a sexual assault case, such as the use of a weapon or victimisation of a child, the punishment may increase up to life imprisonment.

Aggravated Sexual Assault

Aggravated sexual assault is classified as such when committed whilst the offender is armed with a weapon or accompanied by another person, and it can result in the same maximum penalty.

Moreover, penetrative sexual acts not involving a penis but involving other body parts or objects can be classified as aggravated sexual assault, with potential penalties extending to life imprisonment. Circumstances of aggravation, such as those outlined in section 161Q of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992, can lead to harsher penalties for offences dealing with rape and aggravated sexual assault.

The penalty for rape or aggravated sexual assault escalates to life imprisonment if the offender is or pretends to be armed with a dangerous or offensive weapon or is in company with another person during the commission of the offence.


Incest, as per subsection 222 of the Criminal Code, refers to engaging in carnal knowledge with a known close relative and can result in a life sentence.

Incest involves engaging in sexual intercourse with a family member who is too closely related to marry legally. This typically includes relationships such as:

  • Siblings
  • Uncle
  • Aunt
  • Nephew
  • Niece
  • In some jurisdictions, step-relatives or in-laws

Incest has a standard maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment, but this may increase in cases where a child is involved, regardless of consent.

Sexual Offences Against Children

This category encompasses a broad range of offences that involve sexual acts or misconduct against minors (individuals under the age of consent, which is 16 years in Queensland). It includes:

  • molestation
  • sexual assault
  • grooming (communicating with a child to make them more receptive to sexual activity)
  • creation or distribution of child exploitation material

Penalties for sexual offences against children may vary widely depending on the offence’s nature, the victim’s age, and the surrounding circumstances.

For instance, engaging in sexual acts with or indecent treatment of children under 16 can lead to significant prison terms, up to life imprisonment in cases involving rape or maintaining a sexual relationship with a child.

Grooming a child for sexual acts can result in up to 10 years in prison, while possession or distribution of child exploitation material carries penalties up to 14 years for distribution and 5 years for possession.

Sexual intercourse with persons under 16

This is a sexual offence that involves having any sexual relationship or knowledge with a child under 16 years of age. Consent is irrelevant in this case, as a child under 16 cannot legally consent to any sexual act in Queensland.

The penalties for this offence vary depending on the age of the child and the relationship between the offender and the child. The maximum penalties are:

  • 14 years imprisonment if the child is above 12 years
  • Life imprisonment if the child is under 12 years
  • 20 years imprisonment if the child has an impairment of the mind or is under the care of the offender

Sexual abuse of a person with impairment

A person with impairment is someone who has an intellectual, psychiatric, cognitive or neurological impairment that affects their capacity to give consent. According to section 216 of the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld), it is a serious offence to:

  • Unlawfully procure a person with impairment to commit an indecent act
  • Permit oneself to be used or dealt with indecently by a person with impairment
  • Expose or wilfully allow a person with impairment to commit an indecent act
  • Take an indecent photograph or record of a person with impairment with any device

The maximum penalty for this offence is 14 years imprisonment. However, if the offender is a guardian, carer, service provider or employer of the person with impairment, the penalty is increased to 20 years imprisonment.

Revenge Porn or Non-consensual Sharing of Intimate Images

This offence involves distributing or threatening to distribute private sexual images or videos of someone without their consent. It’s often termed “revenge porn” because it’s sometimes done by former partners seeking to harm the depicted individual’s reputation or mental well-being.

Penalty for this offence is a maximum of 3 years imprisonment and it applies to anyone who shares a visual recording of another person without their consent, if the recording is of a private nature or shows a person in a state of undress or engaged in a sexual act.

Other Sexual Offences

Queensland’s Criminal Code also classifies other forms of non-consensual acts, deemed indecent or incestuous, under the umbrella of sexual offences. This includes:

  • gross indecency without consent, such as exposing genitals in public without a legal reason
  • bestiality, which is defined as the act of having carnal knowledge with an animal, either domestic or wild
  • Voyeurism

Consent in Queensland Laws

Consent is a key factor in Queensland’s sexual offence laws, promoting safe and consensual sexual interactions. The law is clear about when consent is considered valid. It’s not valid if someone is forced, threatened, or tricked into giving it, or if they’re unable to consent because they’re drunk, unconscious, or have a mental disability.

Additionally, simply not resisting is not the same as giving consent. If someone says “no” at any time, it means “no,” even if they said “yes” before. Every sexual activity requires clear consent, and doing anything sexual without consent, or continuing after someone says to stop, is against the law. This is clearly stated in Queensland law, specifically in Section 348, which explains when consent isn’t valid.

What is the court process for sexual offence cases?

Sexual assault and indecent act charges in Queensland typically go before the Magistrates Court, unless the defendant chooses to have the case heard in the District Court.

The Magistrates Court handles less serious sexual offence cases summarily and does not offer trials by jury, whereas more serious offences like rape, incest, and sexual assault with aggravating factors are heard in the District Court.

Before a case proceeds to the District Court for trial, a Committal Hearing takes place in the Magistrates Court. During this hearing, the prosecutor presents the case, and the magistrate determines if there is enough evidence for the case to proceed.

If the magistrate finds sufficient evidence, the matter is transferred to the District Court for trial. The District Court conducts trials by jury, adding a layer of public participation to the determination of guilt in serious matters.

Seek legal help

Sexual offences are complex legal matters that must be handled with utmost care and expertise as the Queensland legal system imposes serious penalties for such offences, including lifetime imprisonment.

You should consider contacting a criminal lawyer specialising in sexual offences immediately if you find yourself involved in a situation where:

  • you are accused of committing a sexual offence
  • you are under investigation for such an offence
  • or if you are a victim of a sexual offence seeking legal advice or justice

If you are any of these individuals, contact Gnech & Associates for legal advice. We can guide you through police interactions, help navigate investigations without self-incrimination, and start preparing a defense or legal action.

Acting swiftly ensures your rights are protected from right from the start. Speak with us today!


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