QUEENSLAND'S struggling court system is being clogged by thousands of child-sex cases in what has become the state's hidden scourge.
As authorities again grapple with how to manage convicted pedophile Dennis Raymond Ferguson, who was released from custody last week after a District Court judge threw out two molestation charges against him, startling new figures show almost 6500 child-sex charges were laid across the state between July 2005 and June last year.
Legal experts yesterday said most defendants appearing in District and Supreme courts a decade ago faced murder, manslaughter or assault-related charges, but in recent years the majority were charged with child-sex offences.
Crown prosecutor Sal Vasta said the public was unaware of the vast numbers of people appearing in court charged with sex offences involving children. He said there were no signs of the flood of cases easing.
"What has happened is that we have better educated the children and that is why we have seen this huge jump," he said. "The fact is, the stigma that is attached to it is not as great as it once was. You look at the figures and think we must be cleaning it up because they are so high, but the escalation of cases is not cleaning it up."
Attorney-General Kerry Shine said there was no doubt reporting of child-sex matters was more common, and that was placing a burden on the courts system.
Justice Department figures obtained by The Courier-Mail showed there were 6486 child molestation charges between July 2005 and June last year. They included indecent treatment, incest, using the internet to procure and maintaining a sexual relationship with a child.
Almost 1300 accused pedophiles were sentenced or pleaded guilty in state district courts between July 2005 and June 2007.
Brisbane District Court dealt with the largest number of cases, with 560 people charged with indecently treating a child under 16. Another 62 faced charges of carnal knowledge, 19 were in court on incest offences and 90 were accused of maintaining a sexual relationship with a child.
Cairns was the next busiest court, dealing with 127 child-sex charges, followed by Beenleigh (109 cases), Ipswich (ll4), Townsville (94), Maroochydore (80), Rockhampton (74), and Southport (66).
Queensland Uuniversity of Technology criminologist Tricia Fox said part of the upsurge in cases could be because children were better educated and more confident in reporting abuse. Doctors, nurses and those in other human services roles were now also legally bound to report evidence of abuse. She said the internet had also played the dual role of allowing easier access to child pornography and allowing police to track down offenders.
"We are seeing that the engagement in child pornography does not have any barriers in terms of crossing gender, class and income," she said.
Mr Shine said the main reason for the increase in cases was that modern court processes provided greater protection and support for victims who report both current and historical offences.
A recent police report included 22 recommendations on changes to the law some of which would tighten restrictions on sexual offenders.