New sexual assault prevention and response working group

Minister for Women and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence, Yvette Berry, will establish a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Working Group to coordinate the community, the service sector, unions, and relevant stakeholders on responses to sexual assault in the ACT.

On Monday 15th March, many of my Assembly colleagues and I stood beside thousands of other women at Parliament House to March 4 Justice. The treatment of women in workplaces and across the country is unacceptable. We are demanding a future in which women are treated with dignity and respect.

It is a momentous time and it is time to put survivors at the centre of how we respond to sexual assault and violence.

Last week I met with Victims of Crime Commissioner Heidi Yates, Associate Professor AM and Senior Specialist Sexual Health and Forensic Medicine Vanita Parekh AM, CEO of Women’s Health Matters Marcia Williams, and CEO of Canberra Rape Crises Centre Chrystina Stanford to understand what needs to happen next with the Sexual Assault Reform Program. I heard the call for a different approach to change.

To quote the Victims of Crime Commissioner Heidi Yates ‘We cannot continue to hold up the criminal justice system as the ideal justice response for survivors because that is a promise we simply cannot fulfill.’

To make long-lasting change to cultures of behaviour we need to bring every one along on the journey for change.

The working group will be inclusive and intersectional about experiences of sexual violence across the community including people with a disability, children and young people, the LGBTIQ+ community, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and communities that are culturally and linguistically diverse. We know that there are many different experiences and that our response must provide more than just one pathway.

This work also needs to have a gendered lens as women make up 86.6% of victims of sexual assault in the ACT.

Our approach also needs to understand that the nature of sexual assault has changed over time including with technology.

On Sunday 28th of March Women’s Health Matters released a survey regarding women’s experiences seeking help for sexual assault in the ACT. I encourage women in the community to complete the survey to help us better understand women’s experiences and their views about services and support. You can access the survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/DPJ3FSC.

This research and existing data on sexual assault and sexual violence in the ACT will be an important starting point.

We know the system has gaps and this work will identify the gaps and recommend actions to government.

The ACT Government takes this seriously and work is already happening in this space.

  • The ACT Government has committed to a gender equality in schools initiative to provide a whole- school approach to respectful relationships education. This work will build on the Positive Behaviour for Learning program which is now implemented in 68 public schools.
  • I initiated an annual International Women’s Day congress for ACT students to discuss gender equality in their schools, sports clubs, workplaces and communities, and develop projects that they can implement in their schools. This year, students discussed period poverty and access to hygiene products at school, and the issue of consent education.

Work is also happening within the Legislative Assembly to ensure staff are safe:

  • The ACT Legislative Assembly Staffers Women’s Network provides a place for all women staffers to share experiences and support each other.
  • Last year I announced a Women’s Caucus within the ACT Government to tackle important issues facing women and girls across the Territory and invited my women colleagues across ACT Labor and the ACT Greens to join this forum.
  • Additional to this, the Speaker, Joy Burch, has coordinated a Women’s Parliamentary Group.
  • A review of the Legislative Assembly (Members’ Staff) Code of Conduct is also underway.

Sexual assault and sexual violence requires a whole of government response and I will be working closely with my colleagues in the assembly to coordinate this.

In particular I will be working with Minister Mick Gentleman, Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury, Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith, Minister Emma Davidson, Minister Tara Cheyne and Dr Marisa Paterson MLA who is a passionate advocate in this space, with a particular interest in communicative definitions of consent.

All political parties are invited to be part of this work to ensure progress is made with a united front.

The first meeting of the working group will be held in coming weeks.

I know that this conversation is going to be triggering for some people. There are services available to support anyone who needs some help:

*All quotes attributable to Minister for Minister for Women and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence Yvette Berry*

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