I am also pleased to rise and make a contribution to the debate on the Crimes Amendment (Rape) Bill 2007. As we have heard from other speakers, this is the third stage in a raft of changes arising from the Law Reform Commission’s Sexual Offences — Final Report on law and procedures. As we have also heard from previous speakers, the incidence of reporting of rape is very low. It is estimated that 85 per cent of sexual offences, including rape, are not reported.
It is worth just thinking about that for a moment and looking at the reasons why a lot of women consciously decide not to report sexual offences, in particular rape. Some of the reasons go to the very heart of the matter, like being fearful of retribution. There are also elements of embarrassment. There is also concern about what family, friends and colleagues might think or say. There is also the fear of any potential negative impact on one’s career, and of course any consequential negative financial impact. It is also an assessment that a woman needs to make in terms of time and the amount of time that would be consumed as a result of reporting rape. The other thing that cannot be underestimated under any circumstances is the fact that the woman will have to go through a number of processes where she will continuously relive the rape incident.
It is no real surprise why women, in lots of cases, weigh up what they should do and decide not to report rape.
Indeed, in my mother’s time, in talking to women of her generation and the generation before that, and in terms of my experience of being at university where sexual politics and gender politics were discussed at length and there was informed debate about the politics of rape, there was a widely held view that reporting rape and going through the process was all a bit too hard for women, regardless of your class or level of education. It was just far too onerous, particularly given that it often seemed to be the victim who was on trial.
In a number of cases, women or victims had to produce physical corroborative evidence. We all know that many women were also aggressively cross-examined and indeed a woman’s sexual history was not just explored but was examined and questioned. All of that was a tactic to ruin the victim’s reputation and to raise questions about the victim’s very credibility.
It was also a judicial exercise in having a woman’s whole life stripped bare.
Many of us have very many vivid memories of what happened to women who reported rape and went through the court process. We had a judicial system that allowed this, where victims, whether they were men, women or children — but mostly women and children — who had been subjected to an act of rape had an experience that just simply added to the initial trauma. There was little support, little care and little protection.
Over time, many of us have now developed a bank of vivid memories of what has also happened to women who experienced rape and decided not to report it. I have memories in my lifetime of women I have known who chose not to report rape and have unfortunately suppressed many of the things that happened during that incident. Much of that has contributed to mental illness.
I also know of cases where physical illness has been brought about as a result of trauma caused by that rape, and I also know of women who have decided to suicide as a result. A lot of that is because what has played on those women’s minds during that time, apart from their essence being violated not just as human beings but as women, is that the perpetrator has been able to get off scot-free. At the back of their minds they also know that there has been a really good chance that the rapist has not only got off scot-free from that incident but has also performed the act of rape on other people, including women and the sisterhood. The decision as to whether she should report the rape plays on a woman’s mind to a dreadful extent.
The bill before us today attempts to create an environment which will hopefully encourage women to report rape. As previous speakers have mentioned, one of the most significant aspects of this amendment is the closing of the loophole, which means that the accused, not the victim, will be held to account; the accused will be held to account for whether they even bothered to think about if it was or was not a consent situation.
It is important that we put in Hansard this quote from the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s final report on sexual offences, law and procedure. In relation to chapter 8, at page xl the executive summary states in part:
- … it prevents an accused who has not even considered whether the other person is consenting, or who has failed to take reasonable steps to ascertain whether that person is consenting, from benefiting from such inaction. The onus is shifted to the initiator to determine that there is consent; and
- it supports the communicative model of consent.
There needs to be an active action to ascertain whether it is a consent situation, and this hopefully will also make young men in particular think not just once but twice or three times that drink spiking is not a sport, and they will be held accountable for their actions. It also provides for the judge to give a clearer direction to juries, it provides clarity and hopefully provides juries with a greater focus for their deliberations. That has been discussed by Mr Tee quite succinctly in his contribution.
Overall it is about correcting the imbalance we have seen in this matter of treatment of rape victims and hopefully victims will feel more confident to report. It is also about trying to increase an environment that will allow for a fair go and minimises the degree of trauma.
It should be stated that by doing so, it also ensures that there will be a fair trial for the alleged perpetrator and for all others involved in the process.
Generally the bill is about sending the right messages to the community. It reinforces that rape is a crime, that it is about exerting power over another person and that it will not be tolerated. By making sure that people need to check whether they are in a consenting situation or not, hopefully it may place the seed in certain people’s brains that respectful relationships are the types of relationships we want to encourage and that we want members of the community to aspire to and that that is increasingly becoming the norm in our society.
In terms of community support for what is before us today, I know a number of community organisations have not only been consulted but have been heavily involved with and have had input into the changes.
Senior university academics, Victoria Police and the Royal Children’s Hospital have also played significant roles. I take this opportunity to thank the Victorian centres against sexual assault for the work they have done, in particular the educational work done in regional Victoria. When there are well-publicised rape cases it often falls on CASA members to deal with the media on top of all the other work they do. In doing so they attempt to remind the public that rape is not about women who are out late at night, women who go jogging early in the morning or women wearing certain clothes, and it is certainly not about blaming government departments like the Department of Sustainability and Environment for supposedly not trimming bushes on the Warrnambool foreshore. I have to say that I absolutely abhor the political opportunism that was involved in playing party politics in that situation.
I also thank the South Western CASA for sparing me some time two weeks ago to discuss resources, trends and forward planning and to provide me with further insights on numerous challenges in our communities, which are faced not just by women but by children of all ages, girls and boys; the increased sexualisation of children; and of that occurring at a much earlier age. I think that needs to be an issue we need to focus on into the future. I wish the bill a speedy passage and commend it to the house.