Sweeping reforms are needed across criminal justice, policing and correction systems to support women who are victim-survivors of sexual assault, and also women who are accused people or offenders.
The Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce handed down its second report Hear her voice: Report two to the Attorney-General today. It makes 188 recommendations to the Queensland Government about essential reforms across the criminal justice and other systems to improve the experiences and justice outcomes for women and girls.
‘We heard, listened to, and acted on the voices of victim-survivors of sexual assault, ’ Taskforce Chair Margaret McMurdo AC said.
‘They told us that rape myths made them feel blamed and shamed, and that this added to their trauma’, she said.
The Taskforce held 79 consultation forums and engagements with stakeholders including the judiciary, legislators, police, policy makers, academics and service providers. It also met with women and girls who had experienced sexual violence in supported group meetings.
Across 16 months, the Taskforce received 252 submissions from victim-survivors of sexual assault and 19 from offenders. The Taskforce received 188 submissions in response to its third discussion paper.
Of the Taskforce recommendations, 92 aim to improve the experience of women and girls as victim-survivors of sexual assault, while taking care not to compromise accused persons’ right to a fair trial.
‘Overwhelmingly, victim-survivors wanted the stigma attached to acknowledging and confronting sexual assault removed. Knowing that they will be supported - not shunned, is the first step towards victim-survivors feeling safe enough to report sexual assault,’ Ms McMurdo said.
Hear her voice 2 recommends the Queensland Government implement a comprehensive community education campaign about sexual consent that addresses rape myths.
Ms McMurdo said that the Taskforce heard unanimously from victims, services that support them, lawyers, police and community members that they want the community to be better educated about sexual consent.
‘The fundamental importance of healthy intimate relationships is that they are based on respect and mutual agreement about consent,’ she said.
The Taskforce recommends, by majority, that Queensland laws are amended to adopt affirmative consent, to bring Queensland into line with other Australian jurisdictions.
‘Victim-survivors told us they want changes to the law about sexual assault so the focus is on the actions of the accused person, not what the victim said, did, drank or wore,’ Ms McMurdo said.
Accused persons and offenders
The Taskforce found that there was an unexpected overlap between the two themes of its work.
‘The criminal justice and corrections systems were principally designed, and until comparatively recently, administered by, and through, the lens of men’, Ms McMurdo said.
‘They do not focus on the needs of women, whether as victims or offenders.’
Although women commit far fewer offences, especially violent offences, than men, in the last decade the numbers of female offenders has grown by over 30%, almost four times the male offender growth rate. Proportionally, Queensland has more women in prison than other states. Numbers of First Nations women in Queensland prisons have grown by 120% and numbers of non-Indigenous women by over 80% over the last 10 years.
The report makes 84 recommendations to improve the criminal justice system for women and girls who are accused or convicted of an offence.
‘These recommendations aim to ensure their voices are heard in a part of the system where they are too often silenced’, Ms McMurdo said.
The number of women in Queensland prisons is increasing but they remain invisible, vulnerable, and largely ignored by the outside world.
‘The community would be shocked to know that most women are in custody for less than 6 months for often minor offences,’ Ms McMurdo said.
‘That is long enough for them to lose their housing and employment and for their children to be forced to live with others, or even to be placed in care.’
While women convicted of an offence need to take responsibility for their behaviour, short periods of imprisonment impose a huge cost on the community and do little to help these women rehabilitate. More needs to be done to help address the underlying factors that contribute to their offending behaviour and to better keep the community safe.
The remaining 12 recommendations are about improving the recording and analysis of data, evaluation and implementation of the Taskforce’s recommendations.
Sexual assault victim-survivor quotes – see Hear her voice 2, volume 1 part 2 for more
‘I was questioned in a cold, accusing manner about the incident, in a way that made me feel I was being questioned as a perpetrator rather than a victim. I was questioned about what I was wearing the night of the incident, how much alcohol I had consumed prior … how often I attended bars (I was underage). At no point was I treated with any respect, dignity, compassion or kindness.’
‘All the current justice system does is retraumatise rape victims. Being constantly asked for more details of an event you've tried to forget and bury is brutal. And you go through all these administrative hoops and it takes months and months of your time. All you get at the end of it is nothing. No justice.’
Quotes from women and girls as offenders or accused persons – see Hear her voice 2, volume 2 part 3 for more
‘My story is not unique in the way of brokenness, as many of us women with lived experience. I was born into a drug/alcohol-addicted family fuelled by violence. My mother was a victim of heavy DV before she passed away when I was 6, my brother was 4. We were beaten black and blue on a regular basis from my father. Spent most nights in pubs, our days shoplifting with our dad. I was sexually abused twice at a young age by family members. Drinking and experimenting with drugs & boys at 13. Homeless at 14. Pregnant at 16. Career criminal by 19 also an alcoholic addicted to the party lifestyle and drugs.’
‘On my first day at prison I was strip searched, and this happened numerous times within my imprisonment. The process of strip searching and urine testing is traumatic, I felt violated. I did not want people to see my body, but I was made to do it. It felt like I was being sexually assaulted – take your clothes off, do it now or else. I felt sick every time I was searched. How much lower can you be made to feel?’
In relation to women and girls’ experiences as victim-survivors of sexual violence, the Taskforce recommends:
- A broad community awareness and education campaign about sexual consent and to dispel rape myths, with targeted messages for particular communities
- changes within the Queensland Police Service to encourage victims to report sexual violence and reduce the number of reports withdrawn
- the establishment of a statewide forensic examination service to ensure timely and high-quality forensic medical services
- the establishment of an independent victims’ commission as an independent statutory office to promote and protect the needs of victims of all violent offences
- changes to the definition of consent and the excuse of mistake of fact
- changes to evidence laws to provide more protections for victim-survivors and the admissibility of certain evidence in domestic and family violence and sexual violence cases
- a new model within the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for the prosecution of sexual offences
- changes to the law to enable information about a person who is alleged to have committed a sexual offence to be reported in the same way as other offences, with protections for victim-survivors
- a new legislative framework for adult restorative justice processes in Queensland and a plan to implement it statewide.
In relation to the experience of women and girls’ experiences as accused persons and offenders, the Taskforce recommends:
- training for police, law students, lawyers, and judicial officers on gendered issues such as best practice in interviewing First Nations women and girls and the impact of trauma and abuse on offending behaviour
- reviewing our present response to bail for women and girls
- strengthening and expanding diversionary schemes
- limiting the time women and girls can be held in watchhouses
- separating women remand prisoners from those serving sentences
- broadening the matters relevant to sentencing to include female focused concerns such as the effects of trauma and the needs of dependants
- providing for more community-based correction orders
- increasing the use of pre-sentence reports and rehabilitative programs focused on the needs of women and girls
- decriminalising sex work
- the repeal of the offences of begging in a public place and being intoxicated in a public place as well as a review of other offences that disproportionately impact on women and girls
- a review about whether minor drug matters, should be dealt more appropriately through a health response
- implementing legislative standards and transition from custody planning for women in custody.
Media inquiries: Wendy Sheather, phone 0403 022 954
Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce
GPO Box 149
Brisbane QLD 4001
*If anything in this statement has brought up concerns, contact DVConnect Womensline on 1800 811 811 (24 hours, 7 days per week), Sexual Assault Helpline on 1800 010 120 (7.30am to 11.30pm, 7 days), or Lifeline on 13 11 44 (24 hours, 7 days).