The Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) Improving the Justice System Response to Sexual Offences: Supplementary Report on ‘Grab and Drag’ Conduct was released in the house a few sittings ago, and I wish to speak on it. Whilst I am not 100 per cent happy with there not being a recommendation for a completely new grab and drag offence, I am happy to see an aggravating factor for this type of offending.
To recap on why this report was commissioned, it was the outrage at Jackson Williams’s acquittal of the offence of assault with intent to commit a sexual offence against a nurse just going about her business on her way home from work in Melbourne. He was caught on CCTV grabbing her, dragging her into an alley and straddling her, and as Derryn Hinch said at the time, he was not there to play scrabble. Anyone watching this footage could see the sexual intent, but apparently not the courts. This led to I and Derryn speaking publicly about the creation of a new offence so we could see this offending for what it really is—very serious and damaging to its usually female victims.
Em Jones, also a nurse who works in Melbourne, came out in the days after the offending, voicing her frustration at the acquittal and lenient sentence. She labelled it at the time as ‘grossly inadequate’, and I could not agree more. The mother of three young girls, Em joined me in Parliament about a month later, and we announced the presentation of over 90 000 signatures—it is now sitting at around 114 000 signatures—to the then Attorney-General, Jill Hennessy. In an absolute credit to her, Ms Hennessy then announced her referral to the VLRC for this specific investigation. I made a submission, and I was very glad to have been quoted a number of times in the report, which demonstrates that the VLRC have looked past the politics to see what is the right thing to do. I think they have realised that we speak to victims of crime every single day and that I do not necessarily speak as a politician but as a representative of those survivors and also as a former member of Victoria Police.
There are four recommendations in the report:
- The Victorian Government should amend section 320A of the Crimes Act 1958 … to introduce an aggravating circumstance where the assault would raise an apprehension of an imminent sexual offence.
- The recommended aggravating circumstance should include an objective test for the fault element as an alternative to a subjective fault element. The court should be able to take into account all the particular circumstances in which the assault occurred in applying the objective test. 3. The recommended aggravating circumstance should have a maximum term of level 5 imprisonment (10 years maximum).
- The recommended aggravating circumstance should be an indictable charge triable summarily.
Basically, this means that where an offender apprehends someone in a grab-and-drag-type movement it will be an objective test needing to be proved by the prosecution, rather than a subjective test that the defence counsel will have a field day in opposing. The maximum sentence will also be increased by five years for offences that can be proven with this aggravating factor. I am so pleased to see these recommendations and that the VLRC has listened to the concerns of not only me but the victims of crime commissioner, Sexual Assault Services Victoria, Dr Steven Tudor and certainly not least Victoria Police.
I am very happy with this result, and it is pleasing to see this type of offending taken more seriously. We know that this type of lower level offending can lead to much more serious offending, so we need to denounce this behaviour at the earliest opportunity. Well done to the VLRC and to those who made submissions to this inquiry. Well done to Em Jones and those 114 000 people who used their voice for good by signing an e-petition. With the VLRC’s interim stalking inquiry recommendations, this report, the Victims of Crime (Financial Assistance Scheme) Bill 2022 and the government’s endorsement of my alternative reporting option motion, it is good to see victims of crime moving closer to achieving the justice that they so richly deserve. But there is more work to do, and we will keep working to support victims of crime every single day.