Sexual Assault Survey Reveals How Legal System Fails Victims
Women who have been sexually assaulted and the professionals
who support them have condemned the legal system's
appalling lack of support for victims.
More than 300 responded to a landmark survey that
found the legal system was failing victims in just
about every area, with latest figures revealing 98
per cent of accused sex attackers walked free in 2004.
Results of the statewide survey will put political
pressure on the NSW Government and are likely to bring
about major changes to how sex attack victims are treated.
The findings, not due for official release until April,
paint a bleak picture of a NSW legal system that fails
victims and allows most accused attackers to walk free.
The report states: "While the results are not yet available
to the public . . . the consultation indicated that for many
sexual assault victims there are continuing barriers to getting assistance.
"They lack information or have inaccurate information about
their rights, processes for getting help or about their options."
It added that when addressing the "multiple needs" of some
victims, including legal back-up, translation, mental health
support, accommodation and counselling, no established system
was in place, causing a complete breakdown.
A victim, Linda, (not her real name), who in 2001 had her case
dismissed in court because of lack of evidence, completed the
survey, hoping it would lead to improvements.
She said: "I explained how alone I felt, how the accused appeared
to have all the rights, while I had none. I was scarred by the
fact that the process took four years to complete. It was as though
the system was designed to wear me down.
"I'd receive a phone call to say the trial was starting Monday. I
would then spend a sleepless weekend working myself up, only to
be told on arrival the matter had been postponed for reasons that
were never properly explained. This happened three or four times.
I'm an educated woman but much of the time was confused about what
The survey also canvassed information from counsellors, police,
prosecutors, health service and charity staff. The initiative was
organised on behalf of the NSW Criminal Justice Sexual Offences
Taskforce, formed in 2004 to consider a range of reforms, including
a stand-alone sex crimes court.
NSW Rape Crisis Centre manager Karen Willis said: "It's a concise
document which will allow the Attorney-General to draw informed
conclusions [and] assist him to make recommendations not only
relevant to the criminal justice system but various other government
departments such as NSW Health and NSW Police."
The Sun-Herald (8-1-2006)