When a person is assaulted in a way that, looked at objectively, would make them think that they are about to be sexually assaulted, the crime should be treated more seriously than a common law assault, the Victorian Law Reform Commission says.
The recommendation comes in a new report which is the final part of the VLRC’s major inquiry into the justice system response to sexual offences.
The VLRC was asked to review the law after a case in 2020 (DPP v Williams) where a man grabbed a woman and dragged her into an alley, where he lay on top of her until a passer-by intervened. The man was convicted of common law assault.
The man was also charged with assault with intent to commit a sexual offence. He was acquitted because the judge was not certain, based on his actions, that he intended to commit a sexual offence. Following the verdict there was a public campaign for the law to be changed to better protect women in these circumstances.
The VLRC says that there should be a penalty for an assault where the conduct, looked at objectively, would cause the victim to think she was in danger of being sexually assaulted.
The Crimes Act should be amended to create an ‘aggravating circumstance’ to common law assault to cover situations where an assault would raise a fear that a sexual assault would follow. It would lead to a heavier maximum penalty than a common law assault, ten years in prison.
Chair of the VLRC, the Hon. Anthony North QC said: “People harmed by this conduct experience a level of trauma that is not recognised under the current law. We believe there should be consequences for people who commit an assault that would make the victim fear they are about to be subjected to sexual violence.
“Changing the law would signal to the community the seriousness of this conduct.”
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Nick Gadd, Communications Manager, Mob: 0425 862 firstname.lastname@example.org.