Mr GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (11:37): I move:
That this house:
(1) notes that:
(a) the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s (VLRC) report Improving the Justice System Response to Sexual Offencesfound that approximately 87 per cent of people who experience sexual violence do not report it to the police;
(b) the VLRC report found reasons sexual assault victim-survivors do not report to police include wanting to explore restorative justice processes, negative perceptions of police or thinking their sexual assault is not serious enough to warrant a police report;
(c) a sexual assault reporting option (SARO) is an alternative reporting mechanism that allows victimsurvivors to report a range of sexual crimes to designated agencies and receive appropriate support;
(d) the South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault ran the Sexual Assault Report Anonymously service in Victoria until 2020 where it received 1200 reports each year;
(e) in addition to other jurisdictions, NSW’s SARO has successfully led to prosecutions on crimes such as sexual assaults and drink spiking; however, the NSW model is not deemed best practice and improvements should be made when adopting the system in Victoria;
(f) a SARO was recommended by the VLRC report;
(2) calls on the government to:
(a) commit to implementing a SARO;
(b) begin an Engage Victoria consultation and round table with stakeholders to develop a best practice SARO model; and
(3) requires the government to table a report on the findings of the Engage Victoria consultation outlined in paragraph (2)(b) in the Legislative Council by 1 September 2022.
I rise to speak on my motion 752 about sexual assault alternative reporting options. Just before I start my contribution, I will be using the acronym ARO, alternative reporting option, not to be confused with the New South Wales SARO, which has had extensive media coverage and which is not necessarily best practice.
There are many reasons why victims choose not to report a sexual assault against them. These can include ‘I didn’t think it was serious enough to report’, ‘I didn’t want the perpetrator to go to jail or to know that I’d made a police complaint’, ‘I’ve had bad relationships with the police in the past, so I wasn’t too keen on talking to them’, ‘ This is just the industry I’m in; it always happens’ and ‘I didn’t know where to go to report this’. Unfortunately there are plenty more reasons. It is not for us to judge why someone does or does not report, but we do have an obligation to make sure that they have an accessible alternative option to tell someone or to report the abuse.
I have spoken in this place too many times to count about sexual assault and especially about the lack of reporting and the lack of data collection. It is simple: we do not have enough reliable data on how widespread this issue is. I will rattle off just two statistics today that will hopefully accentuate the problem of under-reporting. The 2016 personal safety survey found that 34 per cent of women who did not report their most recent incident of sexual assault by a male perpetrator to police said it was because they did not regard the incident as a serious offence. Plus the VLRC report Improving the Justice System Response to Sexual Offences, which recommended an ARO, states that at least 70 per cent of people who experience sexual violence do not report it to the police. In fact only about half even seek support from someone, usually from family or friends. This proposal has also been discussed and recommended by many stakeholders and the victim-survivor community for many years preceding the release of this report.
It was just this month that the major universities took part in the national student safety survey. It was once again damning. RMIT University found that:
More than 50% … don’t know where to go to make a complaint about sexual harassment or sexual assault.
In this day and age I find this response incredibly alarming.
In response to a question without notice that I raised with the Attorney-General in late February, the government unfortunately remained noncommittal on the recommendation of an ARO. The motion I have introduced is very straightforward and is asking the government to do three things: firstly, commit to implementing an online alternative reporting mechanism for sexual assault; secondly, begin an Engage Victoria consultation process, including round tables with stakeholders, to develop an evidence-based reporting option for sexual assaults; and thirdly, to table a report on the findings of the Engage Victoria consultation in this place by 1 September 2022.
I expect the government may say to the house today that there could not be enough time or there may not be enough time to conduct the consultation, especially in the time frame specified in the motion. However, precedent has been set through other Engage Victoria processes that would allow this time line to be absolutely met. The property market review went for under two months. The review of Victoria’s approach to illicit tobacco regulation was open for 3½ months. The Aboriginal selfdetermination and education process had a time line of four months. And to demonstrate how quickly the government can act on certain issues, it was 26 November 2020 when former Attorney-General Jill Hennessy asked the Victorian Law Reform Commission to conduct the ‘grab and drag’ review, just eight days after the sentencing of Jackson Williams and on the day that the e-petition with over 100 000 signatures was presented to Parliament. We ask them to commit to the same urgency that we know they have committed to in the past. We think this time line is sound and achievable.
One victim who wanted to use only her first name—we will use a pseudonym and call her Ellie—was sexually assaulted by her friend’s father when she was around 15 years old. Coincidentally I worked with Ellie on another matter when I was in the sexual offences and child abuse investigation team, so it is a bit of a full circle for me. I helped her in the court process, and now I am speaking about her in regard to implementing a law, which is quite surreal. But on the alternative reporting option, she said that she was fully supportive, saying:
Reporting online is less traumatic and allows your emotions to not come to the surface until the person is ready. It allows control over my story.
This is what this motion is essentially all about. I have had plenty of other feedback from sexual assault survivors, both young and historical, including a very brave young lady, Mikayla, who is here today and joined me this morning on the doorstep. I will not rehash what all of the victim-survivor comments are, because I do not think I need to convince anyone here that this is what victim-survivors want.
New South Wales have had a sexual assault reporting option since 2012. It was made more well known, though, as a result of the Chanel Contos advocacy and Operation Vest. Whilst this particular model of an online reporting option is not recognised as best practice, as some questions are not trauma informed, it has had incredible success since its implementation. Two examples that New South Wales police shared with my office about its benefits, besides the obvious general intelligence gathering, include: firstly, with a string of drink spikings reported through the SARO, New South Wales police were able to get their liquor licensing division to work with venues cited in the report, and they then were able to conduct training and provide information for managers and staff about how to spot and reduce sexual assaults and poor behaviour; secondly, in one case New South Wales police told us about, they had a survivor who had described her perpetrator in great detail and with a similar modus operandi to one in a court case that was being put together by more than a handful of other victims— long story short, with further investigation the victim was added to the court case, and they were able to get a prosecution, including for that victim’s allegation. Whilst New South Wales police make it clear that the SARO is not about prosecutions, this would have been an incredibly fantastic feeling for that victim to receive some form of justice. The New South Wales SARO is not best practice in its current form. For instance, you need to download and fill out a form, and some of the questions have been identified as slightly inappropriate by victims. However, New South Wales are currently undergoing a review of the way the SARO is set up and hope to have changes implemented this year.
Queensland have an alternative reporting option run by their police, which is a modern online form. There are also examples of alternative reporting in Western Australia, the ACT, South Australia and Tasmania as well as nationally and overseas.
We are not proposing a Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party model of a SARO, as there are many issues that need to be fleshed out properly. This has become evident through extensive consultation by my office for this motion. We recognise that the ideal way to create a best-practice ARO is to commit to adequate consultation and round tables with key organisations and victims of crime. Some of the issues we have identified through speaking with stakeholders are the following: firstly, who does the ARO sit with and who manages it? And also: how does mandatory reporting of children intersect with this platform? In New South Wales, for example, their SARO front page makes it clear that if the report is about children, the police must notify community services. Also, how does the issue of subpoenaed documents affect the alternative reporting options if at all? And how do we give victims agency through the ARO to control their story? These are some of the questions that we envisage the Engage Victoria process will address, asking stakeholders.
In drawing up this motion we have conducted extensive discussions with relevant and key organisations and people. These include: Victoria Police, including Wendy Steendam, deputy commissioner, family violence and sexual assault; Lauren Callaway, assistant commissioner, family violence, sexual assault and child abuse; and Juliann Goldrick, detective inspector, stranger-based violence. They include academics such as Patrick Tidmarsh, who trains police in sexual abuse investigations; Georgina Heydon, who is here with us also today, present in the gallery; and Sophie Hindes from RMIT University. Thank you very much for your feedback. They are currently investigating best practice for alternative reporting options. They include victim-survivors, both in younger and historic child sexual assault demographics. Thanks once again to Mikayla, a very brave young woman. They include various agencies, such as: Sexual Assault Service Victoria; the Sexual Assault and Family Violence Centre, with a letter of support from their CEO, Helen Bolton; and, of course, Child Safe Strategies CEO Debbie Boyse, who is also here today in the gallery. Thank you for your support. Many others have been invited to take part in this consultation.
The Victims of Crime Commissioner also in her submission stated in relation to the SARO:
Given the individual and structural barriers faced by some victims of crime to reporting a crime, anonymous and confidential reporting options should be available as part of a suite of options for victims of sexual assault so that victims can engage with the justice system in a way that best meets their safety and justice needs.
That is just a classic example of how much we need this alternative reporting option, sooner rather than later.
In conclusion, I do not think that this motion is controversial in any respect. I think that we as policymakers do have an obligation to support victim-survivors of sexual assault, and this is one way that we can absolutely do that. Rather than just speak about it, we can actually do something. I will conclude by quoting the Attorney-General, who said in response to a question I asked earlier this year: We – the government—
want to have a state where those that experience sexual offending can come forward and report those crimes … I
absolutely agree with this statement. Therefore I do not see what is holding up the consultation and implementation of an alternative reporting option. We need to stop sitting on our hands and show that we stand with the victims of crime and just get this done. I commend this motion to the house