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Calls for legislative change for sexual assau -

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Calls for legislative change for sexual assault

AM - Tuesday, 30 November , 2004 08:25:00

Reporter: Natasha Simpson

TONY EASTLEY: Statistics to be presented at an international crime conference this morning show
that sexual assault cases in Australia are less likely to be prosecuted if the victims knows their
alleged attacker.

The research, commissioned by the Office of the Status of Women, shows that attacks involving
strangers reach court far more frequently. The statistics have prompted a call for legislative
change to make prosecution compulsory in all sexual assault cases where victims are willing to
press ahead.

Natasha Simpson reports.

NATASHA SIMPSON: The 141 adult sexual assault cases included in the Institute of Criminology study
occurred over a two year period in Tasmania, Western Australia, New South Wales, the Northern
Territory and the ACT.

They'd all been referred by police to the relevant office of the Director of Public Prosecutions -
38 per cent of them didn't go ahead.

It's these cases which stood out for Institute of Criminology Research Analyst, Dr Denise Lievore.

DENISE LIEVORE: Cases are significantly more likely to proceed when the defendant is a stranger.
Now this is a problem because stranger cases comprised only 24 per cent of the entire sample, so it
does concern us as to what's going on there in those cases.

It's seen as disproportionate because the... in the entire sample, three-quarters of the victims and
defendants actually knew each other, but those cases were significantly less likely to proceed, so
there's an enormous attrition going on there at the prosecution stage.

NATASHA SIMPSON: And there's another thing that concerns Dr Lievore. Of the cases that were dropped
because victims didn't want to go ahead, the majority involved people who knew their alleged
attackers.

DENISE LIEVORE: It's entirely possible that prosecutors may unintentionally or even sometimes
intentionally be shaping victims' choices by advising them that the prospects of conviction are
highly unlikely. If this is the case, victims may be perceiving this as outright discouragement,
but we can't, again, quantitative analyses can't really capture gradations of human interaction
that impact on decision making.

NATASHA SIMPSON: Marg Darcy from the Centre Against Sexual Assault at Melbourne's Royal Womens
Hospital says while the statistics are cause for concern, they're not surprising, given her
experience with women who know their attackers.

MARG DARCY: I think it's a combination of the added complications for women about reporting, but I
think there is also a fairly inherent bias in both police and in the OPP and possibly in the court
system, and I think the community has a lot more difficulty understanding that even if she's had
sex with him 20 times before, it's still her right to say no on the 21st time if that's what she
decides and I think somehow that's got to be turned around. I mean, I would actually like to see a
situation where every woman who reports a rape - if she's prepared to go to court and give evidence
- then that's actually prosecuted, the rape is actually prosecuted and leave those decisions much
more up to the jury.

NATASHA SIMPSON: Doesn't that proposal that you've put forward though leave the way open for
potentially vindictive cases to go ahead when there may not be the evidence?

MARG DARCY: I think anyone who's ever been through a process of actually reporting a sexual assault
to the police would realise that nobody would actually do that unless they had actually been
sexually assaulted.

The process of reporting, itself, is a very difficult process. I couldn't imagine anybody, except
perhaps the most disturbed person in the whole world, actually putting themselves through that if
they hadn't been sexually assaulted. It is not an easy process for a victim survivor to go through,
so I think that would mitigate against people being vindictive.

TONY EASTLEY: Marg Darcy, from the Centre Against Sexual Assault at the Royal Womens' Hospital in
Melbourne, ending that report from Natasha Simpson.