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(AUSTRALIA) JUST IN: The Victorian opposition is pushing for an informal reporting option for sexual assaults, to bring the state in line with the rest of the nation #AceNewsDesk report

#AceNewsReport – Apr.18: The online reporting option would act as a therapeutic tool for victims and increase police intelligence on sexual assaults, under a plan unveiled by the state Coalition.

Victorian opposition pushes for informal sexual assault reporting option: ‘Data shows the vast majority of sexual assaults are not reported to police, and of those that are only a tiny percentage result in a conviction’

Posted 2h ago, updated 12m ago

MP David Southwick speaks in a park at a press conference, with people behind him.
Victoria’s Shadow Police Minister David Southwick is calling on the government to move on the issue now.(ABC News: Andrew Altree-Willilams)

But it would not require the victim to go through the processes usually involved in making a formal report.

Kerry Burns, the CEO of the Centre Against Violence, said the stigma attached to sexual assault and the distressing nature of making an official complaint meant there were often more disincentives to reporting than there were incentives.

Data shows most sexual assaults are not reported to police and conviction rates are even lower.

Kerry Burns looks into the camera.
Kerry Burns says it can be an exhausting process for people who take a sexual assault complaint through the justice system.(ABC News: Peter Drought)

“We know sexual assaults are underreported in Victoria,” Shadow Police Minister David Southwick told the ABC.

“And we need to do whatever we can to ensure more people are able to tell a story and come forward and be able to have their cases heard.”

Survivors in Victoria were previously able to report through the Sexual Assault Report Anonymously website (SARA), which was run by the South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault.

But it was closed down last year.

“It needs to be funded, it needs to be resourced, both technically and functionally by people that can respond to it,” Ms Burns said.

“And that has never happened. We’d like to see it happen. But we’d also like the government to think about more doors to anonymous reporting.”

Victoria looks to NSW model

Mr Southwick said the gap should be filled by a police-linked service based on the New South Wales Sexual Assault Reporting Option (SARO).

SARO is used in NSW as a way for victims to report their experiences without necessarily starting a criminal investigation.

“The primary purposes of a SARO is to make a record of what occurred, in addition to allowing the NSW Police Force to gather information on sexual offences and offending,” the program’s website tells potential users.

“SARO can also be used as a therapeutic tool during counselling programs.”

The reports can be made anonymously.

The system has been adapted in the wake of a petition started by Sydney woman Chanel Contos, which gathered thousands of signatures calling for better consent education in schools.

Girl standing on a street in front of a wall with graffiti
The petition started by Chanel Contos has led to a nationwide discussion on consent and sexual education.(Supplied)

Hundreds of former students shared their experiences of sexual assault as part of the petition, but Ms Contos said she knew referring survivors to police was not an option for many.

Mr Southwick said the petition had “opened up our eyes to say this is desperately needed”.

“In a normal circumstance, those victims of sexual assault will have to find a police station, quite often in quite a confronting way [and] tell their stories many times,” he said.

Mr Southwick launched the policy with Shadow Minister for Women Emma Kealy and Brighton MP James Newbury at Dendy Park, where a 15-year-old girl was raped in recent weeks.Nadine says police need to take sexual assault complaints at face value.(ABC News: Andrew Altree-Williams)

Mr Newbury, in whose electorate the park sits, said authorities knew more girls had been assaulted, but the 15-year-old was the only one to make a formal complaint to police.

They were joined at the press conference by local resident Nadine, who said she was assaulted on a quiet street in Caulfield in the 1970s.Women battle to have drink spiking taken seriouslyPrue McLardie-Hore was was cautioned against taking a drug test despite thinking she’d had her drink spiked. She’s not alone.Read more

She said reporting to the police was an ordeal that involved her having to “prove she was an upstanding citizen” and that she was subject to victim-blaming from the officers involved.

“We need to stop having the victim needing to prove that they’re OK before it will be taken seriously,” she said.

“Things need to be taken at face value and it needs to be made simple and easy for the traumatised person.” 

Government and police will consider proposal

Ms Kealy said Victoria was lagging behind the rest of the country as the only state without an informal reporting option.

“It’s simply not good enough that we’re not giving police the information to be proactive and target people who are doing the wrong thing by women, but also we’re not providing adequate support to victims of sexual assault,” she said.Sexual assault crimesThe latest Australian data shows most sexual assaults are not reported to police. And for the ones that are, getting a conviction is a rare thing.Read more

State Labor minister Richard Wynne said the government was “critically concerned to ensure that anyone who’s been a victim of sexual assault should be given the best opportunity to report”. 

He said he would not make any commitments today about new programs or reporting mechanisms, but said the government would always look to support sexual assault survivors.

“We have a comprehensive response in place for victims of sexual assault and if we need to do more, well, we’ll consider it.”

Ms Burns said the proposal was “a good proposal”, but a “wraparound response” would be needed to make sure victim-survivors were supported.

“What we’re looking for is more options … that let them go at their own pace, from an environment that they feel safe and comfortable in,” she said.

Mr Southwick has met with the Victoria Police Chief Commissioner about the proposal, and suggested the force speak to Ms Contos and NSW Police.

A Victoria Police spokesperson said the force believed it had a robust process in place already, and pointed to the 500 specially trained detectives who worked within the state’s 28 Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team.

“Victoria Police will continue exploring ways to improve these processes to ensure they remain contemporary and in line with community expectations. This could include considering an online and anonymous platform,” the spokesperson said.

“Victoria Police understands how challenging it is to come forward and report a sexual offence. It may take days, months or years after the incident has occurred. Our message to victims is that you will be listened to.”

#AceNewsDesk report ………..Published: Apr.18: 2021:

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