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Call for restorative justice

Briefs

Cite as: July 2014 88 (07) LIJ, p.13

Sexual assault victims need to be offered more justice options, including the chance to confront their offenders, according to a new expert report.

“Innovation justice responses to sexual offending” by RMIT’s Centre for Innovative Justice (CIJ) examines under-reporting of sexual assault crimes, which are estimated to have a conviction rate as low as one in 100.

Restorative justice meetings would allow victims to face their perpetrators in a safe space in a bid to heal the wounds of abuse.

CIJ director and former Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls said the criminal justice system would always play a key role in addressing sexual assault. But he said many victims felt traumatised by the court process.

“There are a range of innovative justice practices that could sit alongside the conventional system that would make the justice system more accessible, flexible and responsive for victims of sexual assault,” Mr Hulls said.

The report recommended phasing in a model it said was victim-centred, did not compromise offender’s legal rights, and addressed community safety concerns.

The report did not rule in or out any particular offence but said the decision to offer restorative justice conferencing would be guided by an expert forensic panel’s assessment on a case-by-case basis.

Recommendations included setting up specialised gender violence teams, offering restorative justice conferencing at all stages of the criminal justice system, and offering immunity for any admissions made except in cases where someone was in immediate danger.

The report also recommended governments consider setting up specialised sexual offence and pre-release courts.

Centre Against Sexual Assault spokeswoman Carolyn Worth said while the report was a good discussion-starter she worried it was not victim-centred enough.

Ms Worth has facilitated restorative justice meetings for sexual assault victims for 18 years.

She said letting formal expert panels decide whether a case was suitable might hurt victims if theirs was judged unsuitable. She also criticised offering any immunity to offenders.

“Sexual assault disempowers you, you don’t want women to feel disempowered again.”

Ms Worth said the cases she had dealt with varied from a teenage girl who wanted to see her sexually abusive and soon-to-be-jailed father, to a woman who wanted to tell her family that her uncle had raped her. But she said in each case it was the victim’s decision as to whether the session proceeded.

The report was commissioned by the federal Attorney-General but was dismissed by the Victorian government with a spokesman saying there were no plans to introduce any of the report’s proposals.

Views of victims’ representatives, judicial officers, prosecutors, lawyers and restorative justice practitioners all contributed to the report.

The report can be viewed at www.rmit.edu.au/innovativejustice.

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