Media release: VLRC proposes bold reforms to justice system response to sexual offences

The Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) has proposed a comprehensive reform package to improve the way the justice system responds to sexual offences.

Improving the Justice System Response to Sexual Offences, published on 12 November 2021, is the result of a major inquiry taking 18 months, involving 99 consultations and attracting 71 submissions.

Chair of the VLRC, the Hon. Tony North QC said: “Justice looks different to different people. No single approach holds all the answers, we need a suite of options. That is why this report makes 91 recommendations across all parts of the system.

Major recommendations:

  1. The time has come for restorative justice and other alternatives to the criminal trial.
    • Restorative justice should become a mainstream option in sexual offence cases.
    • The state should assist victim survivors to take civil action against those who assaulted them.
    • It should be easier for victim survivors to get financial assistance and acknowledgement of what happened to them.
  2. Victims should not feel alone. They need support every step of the way.
    • A ‘victim advocate’ should walk with victims on their path through the justice system, providing counselling, emotional support, advice and advocacy.
  3. A world-first Commission for Sexual Safety should be established in Victoria to provide leadership, raise public awareness, and deliver reforms across the whole system.
  4. Criminal trials should be less traumatic for victim survivors.
    • Everyone who works on sexual offence matters, including judges, magistrates and barristers, should be specialists.
    • Juries need to be given better directions, and more expert evidence, so they do not fall for myths about sexual offending.
    • Victim survivors need more access to communication assistance and better protection from trauma in court.
  5. There should be an enforceable duty on employers and others, such as universities, to eliminate sexual violence and harassment.
  6. Victoria needs a stronger model of affirmative consent.
    • The law should require a person to take steps to find out if there is consent.
    • We also need stronger laws on stealthing and image-based abuse.
  7. Reporting sexual violence should be easier and there should be more options.
    • There should be a central gateway to information and support for people who want to report sexual offending.
    • People should be able to report sexual offending confidentially online.
    • Community agencies who represent diverse communities should play a central role.
    • Police need better training in how to respond to victim survivors who report.

The report was delivered to the Attorney-General, the Hon. Jaclyn Symes in September and has just been published. It is available at lawreform.vic.gov.au.

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