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Monday, 8 March 2004
Page: 20980

Senator NETTLE (4:39 PM) —I want to use this matter of public of importance on domestic violence to talk about the work done by the New South Wales Rape Crisis Centre and its current project to establish an online sexual assault counselling service. International Women's Day is an appropriate time to remember that the vast majority of sexual assault victims are women and girls. Research shows that, if victims are able to share their ordeal as soon as possible after it happens, it can significantly improve their recovery time. Unfortunately, due to feelings of shame and fear, it is estimated that over 90 per cent of sexual assault goes unreported. The New South Wales Rape Crisis Centre was established almost 30 years ago to provide support to these victims. It now provides a 24-hour phone crisis intervention service, support counselling and referral services for women who have been sexually assaulted. The centre also provides information on women's rights in relation to sexual violence. It now assists over 3,400 callers a year and provides a vital service for the victims of sexual assault, who find the prospect of reporting such an ordeal face to face to be too confronting.

For some women, even phone contact may be too confronting and that is where the online counselling service being provided by the New South Wales Rape Crisis Centre comes in. An online counselling service provides another avenue to access assistance and support, and in many ways it can be less confronting for some women than support accessed by telephone. Organisations such as Kids Help Line have already had success with online services. The New South Wales Rape Crisis Centre says that it is a way for some women to communicate what has occurred without actually speaking. The majority of sexual assault victims are young women and the online counselling service being developed by the Rape Crisis Centre will be of special benefit to young women, as well as to other people who are frequent users of the Internet, particularly young women who cannot access a telephone without it being within hearing distance of the other people in their household.

The centre estimates that up to 1,000 victims of sexual assault will make contact with this service, and many thousands more will get information from the web site. The value of the project is clear; however, it is still short of the target needed to bring the project into play. The Greens have already had the opportunity to contribute to the fundraising effort of the New South Wales Rape Crisis Centre—and I hope that other individuals and political parties represented here, as well as the federal government, can contribute to this groundbreaking project by the New South Wales Rape Crisis Centre so that an online sexual assault counselling service can begin.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Lightfoot)—Order! The discussion on the matter of public importance is concluded.