More support needed for sexual assault victims navigating the courts


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Content type
Media release

April 2014

Deputy Director of the Institute (Research), Dr Daryl Higgins said one of the key ideas suggested by professionals was the creation of a new liaison role to help victim/survivors at every stage in the process from the time of first police report through until after cases conclude.

“The creation of a specific liaison role to guide victim/survivors of sexual assault will help ensure their needs don’t get overlooked by the various institutions and agencies during and after lengthy criminal proceedings,” Dr Higgins said.

The 18-month research study drew on interviews with 81 key criminal justice professionals including counsellors, lawyers and judges from across Australia. It also involved a series of observations in Melbourne’s County Court to offer a unique perspective on the potential for future reform.

The study examined a range of recent innovations in justice processes aimed at improving supports for victim/survivors, and how to build on these in the future. The study identified broad support for a number of other key criminal justice system and process reforms. The report highlights the value of:

  • legislated timeframe restrictions on committal and trial processes to limit the trauma experienced by victim/survivors and maintain their engagement with the criminal justice process;
  • the option to use audio-visual recordings of initial statements to police as the evidence-in-chief at both the committal and trial stages to further address the trauma of giving evidence and to capture the reality of victim/survivors’ experience at the time of disclosure;
  • extensive ongoing education of key legal personnel – including prosecutors, defence practitioners and members of the judiciary – concerning sexual assault and ongoing reforms; and
  • consideration of alternative justice responses, including inquisitorial systems and restorative justice practice in particular circumstances – for example abuse allegations within families or culturally diverse contexts.

Dr Higgins said the research identified the need for cultural change at each stage of the criminal justice process.

“Those working in the system were keen to examine the use of restorative justice practices in sexual assault cases in tandem with traditional legal proceedings. This is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of the victim/survivors and the offenders, as well as the community,” Dr Higgins said.

“There was a strong view that the engagement of offenders in restorative justice processes and prevention efforts was important in addressing the needs of victim/survivors in a range of circumstances.

“Ultimately, the research indicated that the system has the capacity to do more for survivors of sexual assault beyond pursuing higher conviction rates to achieve justice.

“Professionals told us that future reforms should be education-based and aimed at addressing potential gaps in service for victims and expanding the options to have their accounts heard.”

This research was funded by the Commonwealth Department of Social Services as an initiative of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022. The National Plan is a 12-year strategy, which brings together Commonwealth, state and territory governments, civil society, the business sector and the Australian community more broadly to reduce the levels of violence against women and their children.

Media contact     
Kate O'Connor      
Phone: 0499 860 257  
Email: kate.o'[email protected]