Sexual Offence Reporting

Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (14:12): I am very pleased to rise this afternoon to speak on Mr Grimley’s motion 752 on the notice paper. It is an area that I have to say I am certainly not an expert in, and maybe that is a good thing. But as members of Parliament we are exposed to people, we are exposed to victim-survivors, who come into our offices and write emails and seek assistance for whatever their particular issue or pathway is. In coming into this role I have certainly had an education in the world of sexual assault that occurs right across our state and also in the integrity, the guts, the determination, the will, the fragility and the scars of people who have had this perpetrated against them—predominantly women but it can be across the board—and how their lives have been changed and altered and damaged and then, I hope, healed by coming forward and telling their story and, if they can, taking it through to holding perpetrators to account. I know I can say that in Hansard, but the reality is it is a very difficult road and a very exhausting road for people on that journey.

One of my first experiences in coming into this role was with the then Shadow Minister for Police, Mr Ed O’Donohue. We went to the Morwell police station and in particular the sexual offences and child abuse investigation team—the SOCIT team—and had a conversation with them about the work they do.

The level of integrity that they have to go into those dark places where they need to go is to be commended and respected—how they investigate and bring people to justice but also deal with the victims of that.

My experience extends to a very, very credible and tremendous professional group called the Gippsland Centre against Sexual Assault, GCASA. I know that there are centres against sexual assault (CASAs) across the state and the very important work they do, again with huge integrity, and the adaptability that they need to take an individual who is coming in to report a crime, who does come in to access their services and to work out the nuanced approach that is required to triage that particular person and provide them with the services that they need and hopefully support them on that pathway.

The Victorian Law Reform Commission report entitled Improving the Justice System Response to Sexual Offences is a 600-page document, and it contains extensive recommendations to support outcomes for victim-survivors. It is a substantial body of work that I am sure all levels of government need to be addressing, and affiliated advocacy groups, I am sure, have provided significant input into that report. Those very serious recommendations, some 90-odd of them, with subsections really need to be addressed.

But one of the key things that Mr Grimley has come out with is that 87 per cent of people who experience sexual violence do not report it to the police. That is a huge and overwhelming majority, and it is deeply concerning that people do not feel that they can report this for whatever reason, whether it is that they are wanting to explore other processes, that they have a negative response towards reporting to police, that they have fear around it, both internally and with their explanation being dealt with externally, or that they think it is just not serious enough—all of those things. We need to explore and work out the ways that the Victorian government and people can turn around that 87 per cent. What one human being can do to another is just mind blowing, and, as I said before, I am very grateful that we have these professionals working in our system.

One of the comments from speaking to GCASA was about the integration of our system. The statewide 24-hour hotline is a very important and accessible service, and I would urge the government, when it comes up to the budget, to continue and give consideration to higher funding of that crisis hotline. Also the collaboration and the ability of those various groups—VicPol, SOCITs, CASAs and advocacy groups—to work together is a really important point, working through the crisis response and the forensic response at a time when the victim, the person coming forward, needs that support.

In relation to the sexual assault reporting option as an alternative mechanism to allow victims to report a range of sexual crimes and receive that support, we know that the South Eastern Centre against Sexual Assault, SECASA, ran an almost decade-long trial. It was receiving reports, approximately 1200 annually, until it was terminated through lack of funding in 2020. This trial provided a really good opportunity for people to have a different access point, have a different platform, and it is worth continuing in a statewide format. To that point, last year The Nationals and the Liberals made our firm commitment that if we are elected on 26 November this year, we will introduce an informal SARO police link platform similar to that in New South Wales.

The reason for that is that we need to turn around that huge figure of non-reporting. We know that the first step to better support and prevention is in relation to really targeting different modes of reporting. We also know that the New South Wales model operates with New South Wales police and with sexual assault and consent advocate Chanel Contos, and that is a really important mechanism again to see how a therapeutic response can be elicited as well. I understand that the New South Wales model is up for review and improvement, and that is very much a workable and responsible mechanism to have. Anything that is trialled and rolled out needs to be fine tuned and tweaked to be able to provide that better service to individuals.

Really Victoria is the only state that does not have some form of this type of platform. We have said it before: The Nationals and the Liberals will certainly be able to make a commitment to work with VicPol, to work with the CASAs and to work with the advocacy groups. The outcomes Victorians seek are better support for victim-survivors and to hold those perpetrators to account.

Finally, a shout-out to an organisation from my electorate of Eastern Victoria Region, Gippsland Women’s Health, based up in Sale. I know that they have done over time and continue to do some very important work in, for example, our sporting clubs about sexual assault, about mental health, about family violence and really providing some of that background for people who are just working through their normal sporting outlet and enjoying that sport. It is a really good mechanism to target those young people who are enjoying their endeavours and provide a platform for discussion and hopefully thought-provoking encouragement for victims to be able to come through and to call out unacceptable behaviour, and certainly family violence, sexual violence and violence of any form is to be called out. The Nationals will certainly support Mr Grimley’s motion to the house today.