NSW Government set to announce sexual assault reforms: Here’s what we need to see

The NSW Government is set to announce its sexual assault reforms six months after the Law Reform Commission finished its detailed review.

Last month, women’s safety organisations in NSW wrote to the NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian to demand urgent action to tackle unprecedented rates of sexual assault outlining nine reforms needed to achieve this end.

Among these are an affirmative model of sexual consent, specialisation of all courts hearing sexual assault matters, and comprehensive consent education in NSW schools.

“It’s time for a comprehensive response to sexual assault” says Hayley Foster, Chief Executive Officer of Women’s Safety NSW

“We have to ensure our criminal justice system is capable of actually delivering justice if we want to hold sex abusers to account and prevent them from re-offending”, explains Ms Foster. “Right now, we almost have a license to offend with 98.5% of sexual predators slipping through the cracks.”

In addition to the much needed changes to consent laws to require persons to show actions taken to arrive at a reasonable belief of consent, Women’s Safety NSW and partner agencies are calling for specialisation of all courts hearing sexual assault matters.

The Child Sexual Offence Evidence Program is seen as a positive model in this regard. This program is available for sexual assault matters involving a child complainant in Sydney and Newcastle registries. It involves specially trained prosecutors and judicial officers, evidence and procedural improvements to make it quicker and easier to give evidence and to improve the ability to admit the accused’s past conduct, and support for complainants throughout the process by witness intermediaries.

“We need to extend the protections afforded to child sexual assault complainants under the Child Sexual Offence Evidence Program,” continued Ms Foster. These protections must be available to all adult and child sexual assault complainants.”

“If we want to encourage complainants to come forward, we need to make it a safe and supported process.”

Alongside legislative changes, women’s safety organisations and advocates are calling for comprehensive consent education in all NSW schools.

“Young males aged 15-19 have the highest rates of sex offending and young females aged 15-19 have the highest rates of victimisation” explained Ms Foster, referring to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Recorded Crime Statistics for 2019. “We have a fundamental responsibility to protect our young people from this fate.”

Other key recommendations in the nine-point plan include ensuring sexual assault complainants have access to specialist case management support, that older women in aged-care facilities are adequately protected.

The full list of recommendations are as follows:

  1. Introduce affirmative consent laws in NSW.
  2. Introduce changes to evidence and procedural law to make the court process more accessible, safer, and trauma-informed for adult sexual assault complainants.
  3. Better recognise sexual assault in the context of domestic and family violence in our laws, including introducing jury directions on domestic violence.
  4. Develop a model for the practical implementation of court specialisation for matters involving domestic, family and sexual violence in NSW, including attached support services for victim-survivors and offenders.
  5. Fund sexual assault case management teams to operate out of currently funded domestic and family violence specialist services and supports for young offenders.
  6. Fund independent legal representation for sexual assault complainants in criminal trials.
  7. Introduce mandatory reporting and systematic audits of sexual assault complaints in aged and disability care settings, and develop a trauma specialist, survivor-led response to disclosures.
  8. Fund a comprehensive, whole-of-community primary prevention strategy for NSW, in line with the national framework Change the story: A shared framework for the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia, including a roll out of whole-of-school community education on consent.
  9. Examine alternative pathways to supplement the criminal justice system in holding perpetrators to account and delivering justice for victim-survivors, noting that the overwhelming majority of victim-survivors of sexual assault do not want to report to police or engage in current court processes but do want access to justice.

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