Feds’ minimum sentence call for sexual violence offences

 

Standard minimum sentences for sexual violence offences, stronger protections for vulnerable witnesses and allowing more evidence in court cases will be taken to states as a way to overhaul the justice system currently failing victims.

In response to the "appalling" low rate of convictions for sexual assault cases and chronic under-reporting of crimes, Attorney-General Michaelia Cash will bring her state and territory counterparts together to develop a plan to ensure victims of harassment, coercive control and abuse have the same rights and support in any jurisdiction.

The federal government has allocated about $4.7 million to staff the early stages of talks, where it is hoped states will agree on the same sentences and penalties for family and gender-based offences, as well as a common definition of consent and coercive control.

Women’s Legal Services’ Angela Lynch has welcomed the federal government’s leadership in addressing issues in the justice system for sexual violence victims. Picture: Dan Peled
Women’s Legal Services’ Angela Lynch has welcomed the federal government’s leadership in addressing issues in the justice system for sexual violence victims. Picture: Dan Peled

Women's Legal Services Angela Lynch said all states had "really dragged their heels" when it came to reforming sexual violence cases, which have only a two per cent conviction rate nationally.

"Our rate is quite appalling so something is clearly wrong, the system is out of step with community expectation," she said.

Ms Lynch said reforms such as allowing an alleged perpetrator's history of domestic violence to be considered as evidence in a rape case against an intimate partner "would be significant".

"That can be really influential in a woman's response to a sexual assault, if there's been a history of threatening or degrading behaviour … she's not going to fight back, she might freeze, because she's been previously threatened."

Ms Lynch said it "didn't make sense" to have potentially eight definitions of dangerous behaviours like coercive control, which is essentially used to described an act of assault, threat, humiliation or abuse used to harm, punish or frighten a victim.

Attorney-General Michaelia Cash is calling a special meeting to discuss reforming Australia’s justice system for sexual violence cases. Picture: Gary Ramage
Attorney-General Michaelia Cash is calling a special meeting to discuss reforming Australia’s justice system for sexual violence cases. Picture: Gary Ramage

Having only been appointed Attorney-General in March this year, Ms Cash said she was determined to work with her state colleagues to "strengthen the relevant laws and ensure justice for victims".

"This is a matter of national importance and it needs a national response," she said.

"Already we have seen States and Territories make the right moves in this space and I want to continue that momentum."

Ms Cash said it was "abhorrent and confronting" that on average, one woman a week is killed by a current or former partner.

"That is why I will be calling an extraordinary meeting of Attorney's-General to progress the work on strengthening our justice system to help victims of sexual assault, sexual harassment and coercive control."

The plan also includes consideration of establishing specialist sexual assault courts with expert staff, including specialised judges, and specific support services and procedures to address the "significant barriers" victims face in the current justice system.

 

Originally published as Feds' minimum sentence call for sexual violence offences



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