Conventional and innovative justice responses to sexual violence

Conventional and innovative justice responses to sexual violence

Kathleen Daly

ACSSA Issues No. 12 — September 2011
Conventional and innovative justice responses to sexual violence

Despite 30 years of significant change to the way the criminal justice system responds to sexual violence, conviction rates have gone down in Australia, Canada, and England and Wales.1 Victim/survivors continue to express dissatisfaction with how the police and courts handle their cases and with their experience of the trial process. Many commentators and researchers recognise that the crux of the problem is cultural beliefs about gender and sexuality, which dilute and undermine the intentions of rape law reform.2 These beliefs affect victims adversely, but at the same time, increased criminalisation and penalisation of offenders is not likely to yield constructive outcomes.

This paper reflects on the limits of legal reform in improving outcomes for victim/survivors. Given the extent of reform to procedural, substantive, and evidentiary aspects of sexual assault legal cases, we may have exhausted its potential to change the response to sexual assault. We may need to consider innovative justice responses, which may be part of the legal system or lie beyond it.


1 England and Wales is one jurisdiction with respect to criminal law, crime, and justice (some exceptions may relate to local police matters in Wales). Scotland and Northern Ireland are also distinct jurisdictions; together the three comprise the United Kingdom. With some exceptions, all the research reported here comes from England and Wales.

2 For example, reports by the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute (TLRF) (2006) and the Australian Law Reform Commission (2010) noted that despite the removal of mandatory warnings about the credibility of complainants and delayed reporting of complaints, it is still for judges to make assessments about reliability and credibility of the witness in particular cases. Therefore, “the effectiveness of the reforms has been eroded by subsequent judicial interpretation and developments in the common law” because trial judges appear to be pre-emptively warning juries about the quality of the evidence to avoid appeal challenges (TLRF, 2006, p. 3).

Authors and Acknowledgements

Kathleen Daly is a Professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Griffith University.

Research for the project was supported, in part, by an ARC Discovery Grant, “Innovative Justice Responses to Sexual Violence: A Global Analysis” (DP0879691, 2008–2011), for which I am grateful. My thanks and appreciation to Brigitte Bouhours and Anne-Marie Tripp for their assistance and care in helping me write and revise the paper and appendix.

Publication details

ACSSA Issues
No. 12
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, September 2011.
36 pp.
Suggested citation:

Daly, K. (2011). Conventional and innovative justice responses to sexual violence (ACSSA Issues No. 12). Melbourne: Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault, Australian Institute of Family Studies.

AIFS news

Get the latest news about our publications, research and upcoming events.