DV Vic welcomes the opportunity to contribute to this important review being undertaken by the Victorian Law Reform Commission into Improving the Response of the Justice System to Sexual Offences. Unfortunately, sexual assault that occurs within the context of family violence is common and under-reported and whilst reform activity since the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence (RCFV) is resulting in specialist family violence responses being developed by the justice system, the reality for many victim-survivors of sexual assault in the family violence context is that they still confront barriers in accessing justice, safety and support. These barriers are compounded by the hidden nature of sexual assault, the misconceptions that continue to persist that most sexual assault is committed by strangers and the lack of understanding about the nature and dynamics of sexual assault in the context of family violence.
For victim-survivors who do seek safety and support, they are still often required to simultaneously navigate multiple fragmented and complex systems as the ‘siloed’ service responses identified by the RCFV have not yet been resolved. Unfortunately, this can result in some victim-survivors finding their involvement in criminal proceedings “more distressing than the crime itself”, being retraumatised by the interaction they have with the justice system and experiencing the criminal justice process and the outcome as not being just or fair. It is therefore critical that focus is maintained on improving justice system responses to family violence and sexual offences to ensure that barriers that prevent people from accessing the system are removed and victim-survivors are not re-traumatised or harmed by their engagement with the justice system.
In this submission we seek to bring attention to the complexity that stems from the co-occurrence of family violence and sexual assault and highlight the importance of developing ‘whole-of-system’ victim-centred and trauma-informed processes and responses. Co-occurrence in this submission, refers to “when an intimate partner uses sexual violence” and consequently, comments made in this submission primarily relate to how justice responses can be improved for adult victim-survivors of sexual violence. To provide context for our submission, we will firstly detail the prevalence, nature and dynamics of sexual assault within the context of family violence including the risk and safety implications for victim-survivors. We will then respond to questions where DV Vic can contribute relevant knowledge and expertise. The answers we provide speak to the broad themes that cut across all the Issues Papers namely, equitable access to justice, designing responses that meet the needs and experiences of all victim-survivors, building on past reforms and complementing current reform activity that is underway, and considering a range of justice options.
DV Vic has had the opportunity to review the submission made by Sexual Assault Services Victoria (SAS Vic) and we endorse that submission. We have not repeated information or expert opinion that has been covered in the SAS Vic submission or responded to questions that we believe have been answered in detail in the SAS Vic Submission.