Criminal law system is failing victims of sexual assault: ALA says issue is more than ‘consent’

16th Jul 2018

The Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) has called on the NSW Law Reform Commission to consider the use of restorative justice processes in its review of NSW sexual assault laws.

“The criminal justice system should continue to be the primary means for addressing sexual assault crimes. However, evidence suggests that this system is failing victims and so it is time that we look for alternative and supplementary options,” said Joshua Dale, NSW Secretary, ALA. 

The ALA has submitted this recommendation to the NSW Law Reform Commission as part of its current review of sexual consent laws.

“We know there are valid concerns about whether restorative justice processes are appropriate in cases of sexual assault. However, the current low reporting and low conviction rate for sexual offences indicates that there needs to be a better way for victims to have their experiences acknowledged and offenders to be held responsible for their actions,” said Mr Dale.

“Victims continue to be reluctant to report sexual offences. The standards of proof required by the criminal system, and the current low conviction rate, discourages many victims from attempting to seek justice.

“We need to do more than focus on the issue of consent. In fact, we are concerned that changing NSW consent laws to make an ‘enthusiastic yes’ a requirement for sexual relations may add a layer of subjectivity and confusion that will further deter victims of assault from pursuing justice.

“There is the risk that such a change may have the unintended consequence of creating a more traumatising trial experience for complainants.”

The ALA believes any changes to sexual assault laws must be designed to create a system that better serves the needs of victims.

“We suggest that there is a place for restorative justice processes in dealing with sexual assault and we encourage the NSW Law Reform Commission to consider this proposal seriously,” said Mr Dale.

Tags: Joshua Dale