Women’s Legal Services welcome Senate Inquiry recommendation for legal assistance for victim-survivors of sexual assault

The report of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee inquiry into current and proposed sexual consent laws, tabled on Thursday 14 September, has recommended that the Commonwealth government fund an expansion of successful pilot projects for specialised and trauma-informed legal services for victim-survivors.

The report recognises that victim-survivors should have access to specialist legal assistance to assist them to better understand and navigate legal processes.

The Committee’s report states:

“Victim-survivors themselves told the committee that it often came as a shock that they were ‘mere’ witnesses to their own sexual assault, and that this was not always made apparent to them in their limited dealings with prosecutors.”

“Not only should victim-survivors be provided with information about the supports available to them and the legal process; they also ought to be provided with or have access to specialist legal assistance, to assist them to better understand and navigate legal processes in a way that respects their agency and supports their interests, including recovery and healing.”

“The committee considers that the appropriate and broad-ranging delivery of legal services would provide much needed support to victim-survivors.”

Comments attributable to Ms Lara Freidin, Executive Officer, Women’s Legal Services Australia:

“It is great to see that the Senate Committee has listened to our calls for increased access to legal assistance for victim-survivors of sexual violence – women often tell us they want legal assistance, support and information to navigate the criminal justice system, but there is limited funding available to provide these services.”

“We are pleased the Senate Committee acknowledges the important role of specialist, trauma-informed legal assistance services in supporting victim-survivors to navigate the criminal justice system, and the need for funding for expansion of successful pilot projects.”

“Specialist legal assistance should be available to victim-survivors to support their engagement with the criminal justice process, to advocate for victim-survivors throughout the process, and ensure that it meets their needs.”

“Women’s Legal Services are well-placed to provide specialist legal assistance to women who are sexually assaulted because our services have expertise in gender-based violence and can provide women with wraparound support alongside legal services.”

“Every day across Australia, Women’s Legal Services work with women who have experienced sexual violence in the context of domestic and family violence. Women often tell us that they are not interested in reporting sexual violence to police because they think they won’t be believed, the courts are unlikely to convict, and they don’t want to go through the trauma of a criminal justice process.”

“Sexual consent laws that require affirmative consent in every state and territory would be a positive step towards ensuring better outcomes for victim-survivors through criminal justice processes.”

“We want to see strong affirmative consent laws in every state and territory across Australia to send a clear message that sexual activity must be consensual, and to make it clear that men are not entitled to women’s bodies.”