Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:03): I am very pleased to rise to speak to Mr Grimley’s motion today. You know, it is frightening: 87 per cent of people who are sexually assaulted do not report that assault to the police, so something is terribly wrong about that process. I know this government is introducing some legislation around victims of crime compensation, but what we need to do is change some of the structure and some of the systems in place to make it easier for people to report those crimes. I think also fundamentally we need to be working further and further to prevent those crimes from occurring, and that requires really ground-up cultural change. We saw that in the Royal Commission into Family Violence, that often this is as basic as being around equality—around equality and a whole range of other issues that lead to violence against women. It is not only women who experience sexual violence, but it is mainly them.
As the motion states, the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) recently looked into sexual violence and reported late last year. It was a very expansive report and it made numerous recommendations, but principally it made it clear that the system needs to change so that when the system is in place it is straightforward and it is not traumatic for people who experience sexual violence. This we heard throughout our most recent inquiry into the criminal justice system—that the processes are not trauma informed and that the processes in our justice system can quite often further traumatise someone. Survivors of violence want to see the criminal justice system hold people responsible. The people who are responsible for that sexual violence must be held to account. But how they are held to account varies, so there have been lots of discussions even around restorative justice in this area. I know when we were doing Mr Grimley’s inquiry into the management of child sex offender information a number of the victim-survivor organisations said, ‘We just don’t want the perpetrator to do it again; we just don’t want it to happen again’.
Now, we need to look at why people do not report to the police. As I said, 87 per cent do not report to the police. People do not think that they will be believed, or they do not want to go through that criminal trial—and I totally understand that. We heard from people talking about their experiences in the court system, their experiences of having to come face to face with a perpetrator or, when they wrote victim impact statements, the fact that their perpetrator could actually amend those statements and could question what they were saying in their victim impact statements. There are lots of areas where we can reform this. I know the VLRC has made a significant number of recommendations, as did the Legal and Social Issues Committee’s inquiry into Victoria’s criminal justice system. We certainly looked at better ways to provide trauma-informed systems and to provide systems where victims can be heard and can feel like they have been heard.
I think we heard this time and time again—that the victim sometimes felt like a bystander in the case—and that is sort of how our system works. Quite often it is the public prosecutor that takes on prosecuting the case, and the victim becomes almost just a witness in their own experience of violence. I think we need to change this. We need to embed trauma-informed practices into the design of our justice system, and it needs to be more accessible, which means making it easier for people to come forward. And you know, for many people it actually has to be less adversarial, because quite often it is that adversary that is absolutely frightening. It is a reason why people do not want to go through with the process—because the process is frightening. It feels like they are having to set themselves up for a battle.
I share Mr Grimley’s concerns that we should have been working on this for decades. We have been tinkering around the edges, but we have not got there. And as I said right at the outset, change has to happen within the community. We have to understand that we do not accept any form of violence, but as I have also said, the system needs to change. The VLRC has made some really broad recommendations, but we need to understand sexual violence. We need to understand what it is and how it permeates some of our culture, and we need to support the people who experience it.
People still do not want to talk about it. We have seen Grace Tame and we have seen some other really brave women starting to stand up and talk about the sexual violence that they have experienced in different areas. But it is still difficult, and I would suggest that probably the majority of women who have experienced sexual violence have not stood up publicly and talked about it. Many of them may not have told a single soul about it or maybe told just their closest friend or their family. We need to find the tools and we need to find the ways to enable people to talk about sexual violence and to be able to report it. There are many barriers, and I think the VLRC report goes into this.
We also need to talk about public education. Stopping sexual violence should be everyone’s business. Organisations like clubs and schools and employers should have stronger obligations to do what they can to eliminate sexual violence and harassment. I would like to do a shout-out to the Fitzroy Football Club. They have been doing some extraordinary work around addressing sexual violence. They have been working with their men’s teams and their women’s teams. They have been bringing professionals in there to have some really hard conversations with club members, and from all accounts it has been incredibly positive for not only the women in that club but also the men.
But the system for responding to sexual violence is under strain. We have heard that victim support services, police and lawyers are all overworked and under-resourced, so getting assistance and finding an intermediary to help you in the court system quite often is not possible because they just do not exist, particularly if you are in regional areas. So we need to create a system that is straightforward and effective. I can see that the government is doing this, but there is a lot more to be done. The VLRC has said this needs to be across government; it cannot just be the justice department. We need to look at the health department, we need to look at education and we need to look at policing. It needs to be across the board. It is a big task, but I would implore the government to prioritise this for victims of sexual violence and all Victorian women.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Motion by Mr Grimley 6/4/22