National inquiry must deliver ‘fundamental change’ to Australia’s response to sexual assault

Women’s Legal Services Australia (WLSA) has welcomed the Federal Government’s announcement today of an Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) inquiry into justice responses to sexual violence.

The Terms of Reference for the inquiry address a critical need to reduce the harm and re-traumatisation of victim-survivors but fail to take into account connections between sexual assault and family violence.

Women’s Legal Services Australia supports consideration of access to legal assistance and other supports for victim-survivors of sexual assault, as well as new approaches to providing victim-survivors with independent legal representation in the courtroom. Similarly, WLSA supports the consideration of legal frameworks around evidence, court processes and jury directions.

Women’s Legal Services Australia Executive Officer Lara Freidin said the ALRC had an immense job ahead of it to make our criminal justice system safe and supportive for victim-survivors and to look at how we can strengthen alternatives to criminal prosecutions to provide victim-survivors with more options.

“The Australian Law Reform Commission has the opportunity to drive system reform and cultural change that transforms our current system into a safe and supportive one for victim-survivors. A better system will mean more perpetrators are convicted, and fewer victim-survivors are harmed and re-traumatised in the process.”

“Nothing short of fundamental change will be acceptable. The current system punishes women who come forward and tips the scales of justice in favour of perpetrators. We need to transform the current system into one that is trauma-informed, culturally safe, and gendered violence-informed.”

“We know that access to legal assistance, representation and support leads to better outcomes. The chronic shortage of free legal support for victim-survivors will be another important area for this inquiry to examine.”

“The biggest gap in today’s announcement is the lack of an explicit focus on the connection between sexual assault and family violence. Women often experience sexual assault alongside family violence, and we hope this inquiry will have a dedicated focus on connecting the dots between different forms of violence against women.”

For more information about the inquiry, visit the ALRC website.