The gang rape and death of 23-year-old Indian student Jyoti Singh Pandey has hit the international headlines. The brutal and monstrous rape has shocked the world with the majority of Indians calling out for the aggressors to be hanged.

Gang rapes and sexual assault happen. However, apart from white slave trafficking, the majority of sexual offences are not caused by total strangers. More often than not, the perpetrators are people close to home, with the most common victims being children.

The most common perpetrators are family members, neighbours, teachers, persons who have the care and custody of the children – in other words, persons who enjoy the full trust of the child.

Don Grubin, in Sex Offending Against Children: Understanding the Risk, said that ‘The majority of perpetrators sexually assault children known to them, with about 80 per cent of offences taking place in the home of either the offender or victim’. This is a staggering statistic – with only 20 per cent of sexual offences on children being carried out by strangers.

Sexual abuse does not necessarily mean only rape. There are other forms of sexual abuse, with rape being simply one of them. In the Maltese Criminal Code, the list of sexual offences, apart from the ones listed under ‘war crimes’ such as rape during war, are listed under the heading of ‘Crimes against the Peace and Honour of Families and Against Morals’.

This heading is very apt because sexual offences destroy the peace within a family. It is not just the child who has been sexually abused who is a victim, but the entire family.

Children who are sexually abused show emotional and behavioural consequences with long-term repercussions still being felt well into adulthood.

There are instances when sexual offences caused by a family member go unreported due to various circumstances: some are pushed into shame and fear not to speak out, and sometimes when they do tell they are simply not believed.

The behaviour of abused children is manifested by self-destructive actions, aggression, sexual difficulties and inappropriate sexual behaviour, and even withdrawal and depression.

Sexual offences are offences against morals because first of all children should be protected from all forms of abuse, and that includes sexual abuse.

Sexual offences against adults also go against morals. When adult married women are raped by their husbands, either through use of sheer force or by using drugs, then that amounts to marital rape which is another form of domestic violence.

Although we live in an enlightened world with rape within marriage also listed as an offence, such rapes go unreported due to fear.

The Maltese Criminal Code lists several sexual offences – some concern children and others concern both children and adults. Apart from rape, there is abduction, which is regarded as a sexual offence.

Abduction in this case is not the same as when parents abduct their children during custody battles. Abduction in this type of offence occurs with either the intention to marry such a person or with the intent to abuse such a person.

Then there is defilement of a minor - another sexual offence which is about minors being sexually corrupted through forms of lewd acts.

In this type of offence a person is also liable if he facilitates, instigates or even encourages such defilement. Another sexual offence is when a minor or an adult is forced into prostitution. An offence also occurs if a child is forced into the pornographic industry or when a person attends a pornographic activity involving children. Any person who, in a public place or in a place accessible to the public, makes anything associated with the pornographic industry is criminally liable.

White slave trafficking (adults are trafficked into the sex industry) and sex tourism, where travel arrangements are made to participate in sexual offences, amount to offences under our Criminal Code.

Solicitation of a person under age via, for example, internet chat rooms under the pretext to commit sexual offences on the person of the said minor, is an offence. Articles 204C and 204D of the Maltese Criminal Code are umbrella articles which encapsulate any form of sexual activity committed on the body of a minor as an offence. Violent indecent assault is another type of sexual offence.

In order to protect minors , the Protection of Minors (Registration) Act has been enacted in which sexual offenders should be listed. Whoever runs institutions or places, including those that are run on a voluntary basis, in which adults have contact with children should file an application to determine whether their employees or volunteers are listed on such a register.

Ann Marie Mangion is a lawyer and a published author with a special interest in family and child law.