Supplementary Report on ‘Grab and Drag’ Conduct (html)

1. Introduction

About this supplementary report

1.1 The Victorian Law Reform Commission has been asked to recommend ways to improve the justice system response to sexual offences. We delivered the sexual offences report to the Attorney-General on 20 September 2021, and it was released on 12 November 2021.[1]

1.2 This supplementary report is about whether there should be a ‘grab and drag’ offence. The Attorney-General asked us to look at this issue as part of our extended terms of reference.[2]

1.3 This supplementary report was prompted by the case of Director of Public Prosecutions (Vic) v Williams (the Williams case).[3] The Williams case is outlined later (see Chapter 2). The extended terms of reference noted community concerns about the laws and penalties for assaults that may lead to sexual offending. Many people were concerned that they did not ‘adequately reflect the gravity of such conduct’.[4]

Our process

Submissions we received

1.4 On 23 February 2021 we published an issues paper to ask if there should be a change to the law. We invited submissions by 2 April 2021.

1.5 We received 15 submissions (see Appendix). We published the submissions on our website, except for those that were confidential.

Consultations we held

1.6 We held a roundtable with Victoria Police, the Victims of Crime Commissioner, Sexual Assault Services Victoria and Victoria Legal Aid to test reform options. The Office of Public Prosecutions and Victoria Legal Aid sent us written responses to the roundtable discussion paper.[5]

1.7 We held formal consultations with Victoria Police and Dr Steven Tudor, Senior Lecturer, School of Law, La Trobe University, to discuss their submissions in more detail.[6]

A note on language

1.8 We used the term ‘grab and drag’ in our issues paper because that was the term our extended terms of reference used. In our issues paper we explained that it is ‘an everyday term that refers to the act of physically restraining or seizing a person, and pulling or moving them, against their will’.[7]

1.9 Some people told us that the term is degrading and we should replace it with a more suitable term.[8]

1.10 We understand why the term might be seen as insensitive. We have avoided using it in this report except where we need to for clarity (for example, when quoting or referring to our issues paper). Mostly we refer to this type of force as ‘conduct’.

1.11 If the government adopts our recommendation, we expect that the term will be replaced by the aggravating circumstance we recommend.

1.12 In the box below, we explain key terms we use in this supplementary report. The sexual offences report defines other terms we use.[9]

Terms used in this report

Sexual offences: a sexual offence is sexual violence that is against the law. Specific sexual offences in Victorian law include rape and sexual assault.

Sexual violence: sexual activity that happens without consent. It includes violence that is not a sexual offence and violence that is not physical, such as sexual harassment. Sexual assault is used instead when it is the term used in the context (for example, when people we quote have used the term).

Person harmed: a person who is a victim of crime, whether or not they have reported the crime or the accused person has been found guilty. We also use the term ‘complainant’ in the context of a criminal case.

Accused person: a person who is charged with an offence.

  1. Victorian Law Reform Commission, Improving the Justice System Response to Sexual Offences (Report No 42, September 2021).

  2. We received an extension to our terms of reference on 26 November 2020 from the former Attorney-General, the Hon. Jill Hennessy MP.

  3. DPP (Vic) v Williams [2020] VCC 1662.

  4. Letter from Attorney-General (Vic) to Victorian Law Reform Commission, 26 November 2020.

  5. Written response to roundtable discussion paper from Victoria Legal Aid to Victorian Law Reform Commission, 8 November 2021; Written response to roundtable discussion paper from Office of Public Prosecutions to Victorian Law Reform Commission, 16 October 2021.

  6. Consultations 2 (Victoria Police), 3 (Dr Steven Tudor).

  7. Victorian Law Reform Commission, Sexual Offences: ‘Grab and Drag’ (Issues Paper I, February 2021) 3.

  8. Submission 4 (Sexual Assault Services Victoria); Consultation 1 (Roundtable on grab and drag conduct).

  9. Victorian Law Reform Commission, Improving the Justice System Response to Sexual Offences (Report No 42, September 2021) xvii–xxi.