Australian Institute of Criminology

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Experiences of child complainants of sexual abuse in the criminal justice system

Media Release

21 July 2003

In a paper released today by the Australian Institute of Criminology three key difficulties were identified by children when facing the criminal justice system for sexual abuse issues. These are waiting for trial, seeing the accused and the cross-examination process.

"The paper suggests that legislative and procedural reform, and a more child-centred policy focus, are required in order to prevent damage being done to the child by the criminal justice system", said Dr Adam Graycar, AIC Director, when releasing the paper.

The paper, which looked at the experiences of 130 child complainants in three Australian jurisdictions also found:

  • When asked if they would ever report sexual abuse again following their experiences in the criminal justice system, 44 per cent of children in Queensland, 33 per cent in New South Wales and 64 per cent in Western Australia indicated they would.
  • One third of legal participants indicated they would want their own child in the criminal justice system if the child were a victim of serious sexual assault.
  • Although Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) was available in the three jurisdictions included in the study, no children were permitted to give evidence by this means in Queensland while forty-three per cent of children were refused courtroom CCTV in New South Wales. All children in Western Australia (except one who chose not to) gave evidence via CCTV, 70 per cent gave the evidence at trial and 30 per cent fully pre-recorded their evidence months before the trial.
  • Despite legislative attempts to address the problem, there is evidence that unacceptable and intimidating cross-examination continues. The use of abusive cross-examination at committal proceedings to unnerve children for trial (in the absence of a jury) was also reported.