Delegates at a conference at Auckland University have been told that legislation purporting to protect people from sexual offences in the Pacific Islands falls short of international best practice.
Christine Forster of Queensland University's Law School says women and children across the Pacific have little protection from rapists because sexual offending laws are out of date.
Most legislation dealing with sex crimes in the region, she says, has not been updated since enactment - and the categories of indecent assault are very limited, with minimal penalties, such as one and two years.
That means, Ms Forster says, that most violations perpetrated against women and children are simply not covered.
Moreover, she says, "Most of the child sexual assault provisions only apply to girls - not boys."
The foundation professor of Pacific Studies at Auckland University of Technology, Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop, says many Pacific nations are looking to address these shortfalls.
People should not use custom and tradition as an excuse for violence, she says, because abusive behaviour occurs in all countries and societies.