An RMIT University report has called for the introduction of restorative justice meetings between victims and offenders as part of a range of measures to support justice for victims of sexual assault.
The report by the Centre for Innovative Justice (CIJ) concludes that – despite hard-won improvements to laws and procedures implemented across Australia over the past decade – the adversarial criminal justice system is failing to deliver access to justice for many victims of sexual assault.
Director of the CIJ, Adjunct Professor Rob Hulls, said the report addressed a serious gap in the criminal justice system: that most sexual assault victims did not report to police, and if they did, failed to achieve a successful conviction in court.
Adjunct Professor Hulls said while the prosecution of sex offenders through the courts remained critically important, many victims still found the process re-traumatising and were looking for other options.
"There are a range of innovative justice practices that could sit alongside the conventional system that would make the justice system more accessible, flexible and responsive for victims of sexual assault," he said.
"Restorative justice conferencing should be considered as part of the suite of available justice options for victims.
"Our report outlines a comprehensive, best practice restorative justice framework that would enable more victims – including those who for a range of reasons do not want to report to police – to pursue an outcome tailored to their needs, and encourage more offenders to accept responsibility for their behaviour."
Restorative justice conferencing is a process where the victim and offender come together in a safe, facilitated encounter to repair, to the extent possible, the harm caused by the offending.
A successful conference can lead to an outcome agreement that might encompass an apology, financial compensation, a commitment by the offender to enter treatment, and an agreement about future contact or disclosure to family members.
The report offers suggestions for reform including:
- a legislative framework for restorative justice conferencing to ensure appropriate safeguards and quality of practices
- the establishment of assessment panels comprised of forensic, legal and community experts to determine the suitability of cases for restorative justice conferencing
- pathways into and out of restorative justice conferencing, with appropriate police, prosecution and judicial oversight at different stages of the criminal justice process.
The report also discusses other therapeutic justice innovations, such as sexual offence courts and pre-release courts.
In developing a detailed road map for jurisdictions considering expanding justice options for sexual assault victims, the CIJ reviewed extensive international literature and consulted a wide range of experts in Australia and New Zealand.
The CIJ convened an expert roundtable of victims’ representatives, judicial officers, prosecutors, lawyers and restorative justice practitioners to help resolve some of the complex legal and practical issues that arise in the area.
The report was funded through a $300,000 Federal Government grant.
For interviews: Adjunct Professor Rob Hulls, (03) 9925 1139 or 0418 996 840.
For general media enquiries and a PDF copy of the report: Gosia Kaszubska, (03) 9925 3176 or 0417 510 735.