Is there a need for reform to help sexual violence victims engage with the
Why are we looking at the support sector in a project relating to justice processes?
10.5Our terms of reference direct us to examine the legal framework for dealing with sexual violence placing “emphasis upon the extent to which a new framework and/or new processes should be developed to deal with sex offence cases”. However, it is artificial to divorce a review of the legal framework from a broader examination of the support received by victims as we consider that the two are inextricably linked. There are three reasons for this.
10.6Firstly, deciding whether or not to enter into the justice system is more likely to be a mid- to long-term priority for victims, who will probably focus in the short-term on their immediate well-being (for example the short-term support needs of security, shelter, and medical assistance). The extent to which a victim feels supported or further victimised will impact upon whether a victim is willing to engage in a justice process including a criminal trial or an alternative process. This Report has highlighted the various challenges that the criminal justice system currently presents to victims, thus it is essential that victims’ support and service needs are met before they are ready to face the hurdles that may arise in meeting their justice needs.
10.7Secondly, “support and information needs may change over time or across situations… [and] an additional range of factors come into play with the involvement of different criminal justice agencies”. Accordingly, there is not a clear demarcation between when a victim needs help relating to their support and service needs and help relating to their justice needs. Consideration must therefore be given to the wider victim experience and not just what happens when a victim participates in the justice system.
10.8Thirdly, we suggest that recognising the individualised support and service needs of victims, and responding in a timely and appropriate manner to those needs, can help empower those victims to then make decisions relating to justice and legal processes – including whether the victim is able and willing to engage with a justice process. Because victims do not conform to a stereotype, the approach to helping each victim will be different and will require time and resources. This is just as true in relation to the support and service needs of victims as it is to victims’ justice needs. We believe the support and service needs and justice needs of victims will often overlap and require cross-organisational coordination to ensure these needs are met.
10.9Research has illustrated that “implementing law reform, whether substantive or procedural, is inadequate to bring about real justice unless accompanied by other long-term community-wide initiatives”. The package of reform proposals presented in this Report will require broader initiatives to support and complement them. It is appropriate to examine the nature of support external to the justice system, as it impacts upon participation in that system.
10.10It follows that to better serve victims of sexual violence, this Report needs to consider the whole picture of support services that are potentially engaged after sexual violence occurs. Simply addressing the experience of sexual violence victims within the trial process and providing an alternative justice process is, of itself, insufficient.