Women’s safety peak calls for urgent reform to ensure victims of sexual assault can access justice
Following the March4Justice outside Parliament House yesterday, Women’s Safety NSW met with the Prime Minister’s Office, the Minister for Women, the Attorney-General’s Office, their Shadows and the Greens to call for urgent reform which will increase access to justice for sexual assault survivors.
“Right now, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 98.5% of sexual predators are considered innocent in the eyes of the law,” says Hayley Foster, Chief Executive Officer of Women’s Safety NSW. “We are essentially giving perpetrators the green light to offend and this needs to change.”
In the meetings in Parliament House, Women’s Safety NSW outlined a number of key reforms needed to make the criminal justice system capable of delivering justice to sexual assault victims. These include:
- Adopting a model of affirmative consent to put the onus on the person seeking consent to take positive action to confirm it has been given.
- Reforming evidence laws of tendency and coincidence to make it easier to admit past behaviour of alleged offenders in court.
- Reforming procedural laws to extend the option of evidence pre-record to adult complainants of sexual assault, preventing the re-traumatisation which comes from lengthy court cases.
- Development of jury directions to ensure late disclosure and prior inconsistent statements on the part of sexual assault complainants are not used to discredit them.
- Ensuring all actors in the system from police, prosecutors, and judicial officers, are afforded specialist training and professional development to equip them in providing appropriate responses.“These changes would truly make the criminal justice system safer, and more accessible to victims of sexual assault. If we genuinely want to see a reduction in sexual violence in this country we must ensure the criminal justice system is fit for purpose to hold perpetrators to account. Right now Women’s Safety organisations are looking to the federal government for leadership regarding this matter”, continues Hayley Foster.Women’s Safety NSW also reinforced the critical need for the following:
A national definition of domestic violence which puts coercive control at its centre.
- Nationally consistent data collection so we can effectively measure our progress on reducing violence against women.
- Increased funding for women and children’s safety services and perpetrator programs for the early years of the National Plan to reflect the increased demand as more and more survivors and abusers are reaching out for support.
“Our primary prevention programs and general awareness raising is working, but we need nationally consistent data to measure these gains, and we need to acknowledge that as a result of our efforts more people are coming forward and services must be funded to meet that increased demand”, implores Hayley Foster.
As a measure of this rising demand, Women’s Safety NSW members have experienced a 25% increase in the number of clients coming forward in the past three years, but they haven’t received a single extra dollar in core funding to accommodate this increase.
Women’s Safety NSW also noted the urgent need for family law reform and measures to ensure women’s economic security so that victim-survivors of abuse have genuine options to escape. “We know the report from the family law inquiry has been handed down, the recommendations are largely well received but given the overwhelming evidence to the committee we would have liked a more resolute position on ending the highly problematic presumption of equal shared parental responsibility.”
“It is still the case to this day that the biggest obstacles for victim-survivors seeking safety for themselves and their children are a pro-contact family law system and a lack of financial resources”, states Hayley Foster.