What change can improve the sexual violence support sector to better assist
victims to engage with the justice system?
Function four: dedicated research capacity focused on sexual violence including support to implement robust data collection practices throughout the sector
11.43Sexual violence has intersections with other forms of violence while also being a form of harm with an impact that far exceeds the act of violence itself. Without a dedicated research unit and data on which to base that research, there is reduced insight into the nature of the violence, the experience of victims, methods of preventing sexual violence, the impact of sexual violence for victims, their families and the wider community and how best to support victims and their families in the criminal justice system and beyond.
11.44There is the need for a research unit, either independent of a research facility already in existence or as an extension of a current facility (for example, based in a hospital or academic institution), but with its own independent research agenda and funding. The scope of potential projects is significant and encompasses not only more theoretical and conceptual areas such as the nature of victimisation but also more practical areas that would help victims of sexual violence in New Zealand today. These could include:
- the utility of an 0800 number and/or a website;
- collection and analysis of data about the mention of sexual violence in applications to the Family Court for protection orders;
- research as to what constitutes consent and preconceptions held about sexual violence (for instance amongst the public and lawyers, judges, medical staff and those working in the sexual violence sector) and how these can best be overcome;
- research into the extent to which the criminal justice system is able to respond to victim’s needs;
- research into adherence with the Victims Code overseen by the Ministry of Justice; and
- collection and analysis of data regarding cases that proceed through the alternative process.
11.45Throughout this Report (and other research including From “Real Rape” to Real Justice: Prosecuting Rape in New Zealand) the need for further research is highlighted. The dedicated research centre would be an ideal place to centralise these projects, ensuring an effective use of resources, access to stakeholders and experts in the field, and a conduit to ensure those across the sector know of and can participate in this research agenda.
11.46An important component of research is the collection of data pertaining to sexual violence. Data collection informs funding allocation and demand, as well as increasing knowledge relating to the prevalence and characteristics of sexual violence. As highlighted in New Zealand’s state reports issued by the United Nations monitoring bodies, there is a need to “ensure systematic collection and publication of data, disaggregated by sex, ethnicity, type [and characteristics] of violence, and by the relationship of the perpetrator to the victim; to collect data on the number of women killed by partners or ex-partners; and to monitor the effectiveness of legislation, policy and practice relating to all forms of violence against women and girls”. This statement highlights the range of statistics and data that can be collected and the use made of that information.
11.47Good data is crucial to creating an accurate picture of sexual violence in New Zealand. Researchers and policymakers need good data to understand the problem of sexual violence and propose solutions. Underreporting of sexual violence creates a barrier to the collection of good data through official channels, which means that Police crime statistics alone cannot be relied on.
11.48The issue of centralisation also needs to be addressed. At present, potentially useful data is held across a range of different government and community service providers. During this review we contacted Police, the Ministry of Justice, ACC, and a number of community service providers to request quantitative and qualitative data on sexual violence. Inevitably, different organisations recorded their data in different ways and some were more comprehensive than others. Some responsibility needs to be taken at a national level for collating data from the various organisations, keeping it current, and making it accessible to researchers, policy makers, and the general public.
11.49Greater consideration is required of methods by which data can be obtained, including alternative reporting models such as the “You Have Options” programme in the United States of America, which allows anonymous reporting of sexual violence and thus collection of data even if the victim elects not to report formally to Police. Programmes such as this allow access to information that would not otherwise be available and would permit exploration of alternative approaches to meeting the justice needs of victims. For example, with the “You Have Options” programme, there is capacity for Police to draw on data that might be used to prevent future offending even where the victim has chosen not to pursue the complaint to trial.
Tasks for government
- Identify and put in place data collection programmes at police stations, courts, medical centres and crisis centres. Assume responsibility for resourcing the collection of data and then gathering, analysing and disseminating the data.
- Explore the potential for developing a centre of excellence in research attached to one of the universities or polytechnics, where we understand there are already isolated projects being undertaken.
- Explore anonymous reporting mechanisms that would allow the collection of data in order to, for example, identify patterns and geographic prevalence. There are currently models in both Australia (<www.sara.org.au>) and the United States of America (“You Have Options”) that warrant further consideration.
- Work closely with individuals and organisations based in the sector to identify those issues that require investigation and research.