Experiences of sexual violence victim-survivors in the justice system: report

Experiences of sexual violence victim-survivors in the justice system: report

A new report released by BOCSAR has highlighted the significant challenges faced by people who have experienced sexual violence in the current NSW legal system.

RMIT’s Centre for Innovative Justice and KPMG were engaged by the NSW Bureau of Crime and Research (BOCSAR) to undertake the study which was based on 34 in-depth interviews with adult sexual offence complainants who reported the incident to police. 

Elena Campbell, Associate Director of Research, Advocacy and Policy, Centre for Innovative Justice said the report revealed poor experiences were evident across the various stages of the justice system.

“These included experiences of first reporting, the response from the first police officers with whom complainants speak and officers who do the investigation, a disconnect between different parts of the system and lack of communication throughout the process, to name a few,” Campbell said.      

Complainants also felt there was a lack of understanding and empathy from those working in the system, which is often the result of system overwhelm, as well as the result of gaps in specialised training and education in certain areas.  

“This makes victim-survivors feel that they are pushed to the side in a system that was never designed with them in mind,” Elena said.    

“Victim-survivors of sexual violence have already endured a serious trauma, and without the right trauma-informed approaches in the legal process, this trauma is not only exacerbated, but becomes a ‘new trauma’, as one participant explained.”  

a female with brown curly hair wearing a neck scarf and earrings smiles at the camera Elena Campbell, Associate Director of Research, Advocacy and Policy, Centre for Innovative Justice. Source: RMIT

Campbell said the report provides a unique chance to hear, in complainants' own words, how they experienced the criminal justice process and why they chose to complete the process despite the negative experiences.

“The primary reason victim-survivors reported to police was to protect others – and this commitment to preventing future harm shone through in their participation in this research, as did their resilience and hopes for meaningful change,” she said. 

The report offers 14 recommendations for reform that could improve the experience of complainants in the criminal justice system. They range from targeted public awareness campaigns, to improved facilitation of the court process and training for frontline workers. 

“By understanding and addressing the barriers to reporting a sexual offence, we can improve the legal process so it’s a safe and supportive experience for those who have already experienced serious trauma.” 

While it focuses on NSW, Campbell says the findings and recommendations can be applied across Australian states and territories. 

“This report is an overdue opportunity to put the voices of victim-survivors of sexual assault in NSW at the centre of reform and hopefully create change not only in NSW but all of Australia,” she said.  

The full report can be accessed at BOCSAR's website


Story by: Katie Comas


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