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Background, context and literature

History of the Sexual Assault Reform Program (SARP)

Prior to the current reforms, the Australian Capital Territory Government established the Sexual Assault Response Program with the objective of identifying ways to improve the experiences of sexual offence victims entering the ACT criminal justice system (DPP & AFP 2005). Comprising a Senior Prosecutor from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and a specialist Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Team (SACAT) from the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the SARP team consulted broadly with prosecutors, investigators and service providers across Australia and overseas. The 2005 report Responding to sexual assault: The challenge of change (DPP & AFP 2005) documents the team’s findings and its 105 proposed recommendations.

The Sexual Assault Reform Program (SARP) was developed as a direct response to the recommendations to reform the way sexual offence cases are handled by the ACT criminal justice system. Managed by the ACT’s Justice and Community Safety Directorate (JACS), SARP has a number of key objectives, principally:

  • improving the processes and support for victims of sexual offences as they progress through the criminal justice system;
  • reducing attrition in sexual offence matters in the criminal justice system; and
  • improving coordination and collaboration among agencies involved in the criminal justice system.

In November 2007 the ACT Attorney-General announced $4 million of funding for several SARP reforms:

  • three additional victim support positions;
  • the establishment of an off-site witness facility to allow witnesses to give evidence away from the court precinct;
  • an upgrade of equipment for the Supreme Court and Magistrates Court;
  • development of a multimedia victim information package;
  • additional staffing (one more police officer, prosecutor and legal policy officer);
  • development of an accredited inter-agency training and evaluation initiative; and
  • provision for an evaluation of the reforms.

In addition to these upgrades to SARP infrastructure, the reform agenda included a number of legislative changes that came into effect on 30 May 2009. The legislative amendments changed how evidence can be given by victims of sexual and family violence offences, children and other vulnerable witnesses. There is no internationally agreed definition of ‘vulnerable’ witnesses. However, the following groups are often considered to require special protection: children and young people; Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders; the mentally ill or disordered, and persons with developmental disabilities; and persons from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities. The primary objectives of this legislation are to provide an unintimidating, safe environment for vulnerable witnesses (including sexual offence complainants) to give evidence; and to obtain prompt statements from witnesses to best capture evidence (DPP 2009: 13).

The current SARP evaluation sought to address whether key program objectives have been met. Specific questions explored were:

  • Have there been improvements in the processes and support for victims of sexual offences as they progress through the criminal justice system?
  • Has attrition in sexual offence matters in the ACT’s criminal justice system improved?
  • Have there been improvements in the coordination and collaboration among agencies involved in administering SARP?

The objectives and corresponding reforms were developed to address the primary factors previously identified in research that influence a victim/survivor’s decision to report a sexual offence and to pursue the matter in the criminal justice system.

Use of the terms ‘sexual offence victim/survivor’ and ‘offender’

Throughout this report, the term ‘victim/survivor’ will be used for individuals who have reported a sexual offence to the police or sought counselling from the support services. ’Offender’ is used to describe the individual(s) identified by the victim/survivor as having committed the offence. Although it is recognised that not all cases are proven and that in some cases the ‘offenders’ are in fact ‘alleged offenders’ who have not been convicted, the term ‘offender’ has been used for the sake of readability.

Barriers to reporting and prosecuting sexual offences

The ‘dark figure’ of sexual offences

It has been well documented that most sexual offences are not reported to the police (Bouhours & Daly 2008; Lievore 2002) and that sexual offences are underreported compared with other crimes. Research clearly demonstrates that reported sexual offences reflect only a minority of all crimes of this nature (Fitzgerald 2006). Self-report surveys, for example, demonstrate that many more sexual offences occur than are reported to police; the unreported offences constitute the ‘dark figure’ (Lievore 2002: 29) of sexual violence.

Furthermore, as Neame and Heenan (2003) argue, the methods adopted by these surveys (eg written questionnaires) can obscure the level of sexual violence against particular groups of victims, such as those from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, young people, homeless people and sex workers. Research has also highlighted the greater levels of sexual offences experienced by women with disabilities, who often have very low reporting rates (Frohmader 2011). This is compounded by the lack of support services available to these women (Frohmader 2011).

Attrition of sexual offence cases in the criminal justice system

Existing research clearly shows that sexual offences have a very high rate of attrition (Kelly et al. 2005; Lievore 2003); sexual offences against children in particular have one of the highest rates of attrition of any offence (Eastwood, Kift & Grace 2006). Attrition in this context refers to sexual offence cases that have entered the criminal justice system (eg via a report to police) but ‘drop out’ before a criminal conviction is recorded (Kelly et al. 2005).

Attrition of sexual offence cases in the criminal justice system is one of the primary drivers of the SARP reforms. There can be numerous reasons why a case does not proceed to conviction, or ‘drops out’ of the criminal justice system. Attrition can occur at a number of stages or ‘points’ (Kelly et al. 2005): reporting, investigation, prosecution and adjudication. Each of these is discussed below.

Table 1: Common barriers to reporting sexual offences
Personal barriers Justice system barriers
  • Perception that offence is too trivial or inappropriate to report to police
  • Perception that offence is not a ‘real’ crime
  • It not being clear that harm was intended
  • Wanting to deal with it themselves
  • Regarding it as a private matter
  • Shame or embarrassment
  • Not wanting family or others to know
  • Fear of reprisal by assailant
  • Blamed by self or others for the attack
  • Wanting to protect offender, relationship or children
  • Perception that police would not or could not do anything
  • Perception that police would not think it was serious enough, or would not want to be bothered with the incident
  • Fear of not being believed by police
  • Fear of being treated with hostility by police or others within the justice system
  • Fear or dislike of police
  • Fear of the legal process
  • Lack of proof that the incident happened
  • Not knowing how to report

Source: Lievore (2002: 31)

Reporting

Not all victims of sexual offences report the offence to police. Self-report surveys consistently demonstrate that many more sexual offences take place than are reported (Neame & Heenan 2003). Common reasons for reporting a sexual offence to police were found by Kelly et al. (2005) to be:

  • to sanction the offender;
  • to protect others from the offender;
  • fear of the offender; and
  • because sexual offences ‘should’ be reported.

The study found non-reporting was commonly due to:

  • the abuse having occurred some time ago;
  • not wanting others to know what happened;
  • the victim not being able to face the criminal justice system;
  • concern about not being believed; and
  • lack of faith in the police.

It was also found that a small proportion of reports are deemed by police to be false (Kelly et al. 2005; Triggs et al. 2009).

Reasons for not reporting and prosecuting sexual offences have been well documented in the research literature. Lievore (2002) found that there are two broad categories of barriers to reporting: personal barriers and barriers related to the criminal justice system. These are listed in Table 1.

There are also a range of barriers to reporting and prosecuting sexual offences that are unique to child victims. Research has found that children often delay reporting sexual offences because of self-blame, shame, and threats by or fear of the offender, and/or other psychological effects of the abuse (Lewis 2006). Research has demonstrated that child witnesses are often perceived as unreliable (Sumner-Armstrong & Newcombe 2007). Delays in reporting sexual offences can further exacerbate this.

Importantly, a study by Taylor and Putt (2007) found that women from Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander and CALD backgrounds list further barriers to reporting sexual violence. For example, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander women listed fear of being ostracised for bringing shame upon the family; fear of retaliatory violence from the offenders and their supporters; fear of having children removed by social welfare authorities; and reluctance to be responsible for the incarceration of an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander offender, given the high incarceration rate for these groups. CALD women in Taylor and Putt’s (2007) study also listed additional barriers: not considering sexual violence committed by a husband to be a crime; pressure to avoid shaming the whole community; fear of deportation; and fear resulting from adverse experiences with police in their home country.

Table 2: All sexual offences recorded by ACT policing, 2009–10, by offence type, clear-up rate and sex of person charged
Offences reported Offences cleared Clear-up rate (%)a Charges against males Charges against females Total charges
Sexual assault 1st, 2nd or 3rd degreeb 9 9 100.0 15 0 15
Sexual intercourse, no consent 81 91 112.3 17 0 17
Sexual intercourse with a person under 16 years 36 37 102.8 8 0 8
Indecent act, assault 29 20 69.0 2 0 2
Indecent act, no consent 41 33 80.5 26 0 26
Indecent act on person under 16 years 52 68 130.8 47 0 47
Incest 8 9 112.5 7 0 7
Indecent exposure 35 15 42.9 6 2 8
Abduction (sexual intent) 0 0 - 0 1 1
Total sexual offences 291 282 96.9 128 3 131

a: Clear-up rates reported by ACT Policing do not relate exclusively to offences that were reported during the 2009–10 period. As a result, clear-up rates can exceed 100 percent.

b: There are varying degrees of sexual assault, ranging from sexual misdemeanours through to more serious acts that are most commonly known by the public as ‘rape’. Definitions for each of these are outlined in Part 3 of the Crimes Act (1900), an extract of which can be found at Appendix C in this report

Source: AFP (2010: 145).

Investigation

A proportion of cases reported to police are not subsequently investigated by police. Often, police do not proceed with the investigation of an offence due to evidentiary difficulties (Borzycki 2007)—for example, insufficient evidence of an offence, no offender identified, or little prospect of a conviction (Kelly et al. 2005). The latter is particularly the case when the complainant has a mental illness or intellectual disability, and/or is a ‘repeat complainant’ (Kelly et al. 2005). It should be noted that people with mental health problems and/or intellectual disabilities are overrepresented as victim/survivors of sexual offences. Research has also indicated that some victims of sexual offences are targeted repeatedly, with offenders using knowledge of prior offences against victims as part of their modus operandi (Clark & Quadara 2010). ‘Repeat complainants’ or those with mental health or intellectual disability issues are therefore likely to form a substantial proportion of all sexual offence complainants. Evidentiary difficulties related to these issues are therefore likely to be common and may reduce the prospect of conviction.

Research shows that in many cases, complainants become unwilling to proceed to prosecution, which may result in the withdrawal of a case by prosecutors, for two main reasons. ‘Decisions not to proceed when victims are reluctant may be based on a desire to minimise the risk of re-victimisation of those victims who have a pre-existing relationship with offenders, and/or because unwilling witnesses are likely to undermine a case’ (Borzycki 2007: 25). Prosecutors may also be concerned that victims who do not have a pre-existing relationship with an offender will be re-traumatised by the criminal justice process.

Research indicates that complainants may be unable and/or unwilling to proceed with an investigation for a range or reasons, including:

  • practical reasons (eg the complainant has moved away or police are unable to contact them) (Kelly et al. 2005);
  • difficulties with the reporting process (eg being disbelieved by police; not wanting to have a forensic medical examination) (Kelly et al. 2005);
  • not wanting others (eg family members, colleagues) to find out (Kelly et al. 2005; Triggs et al. 2009);
  • wanting to deal with the offence in their own way (Kelly et al. 2005);
  • fear of the court process (Lievore 2005; Triggs et al. 2009);
  • being harassed by the offender (Lievore 2005);
  • not being able to recall details of the offence (eg due to drink-spiking) (Lievore 2005; Triggs et al. 2009); and
  • wanting the offender to be warned only, or wanting to make a report but take no further action (Triggs et al. 2009).

A key finding of a number of previous studies is that complainants often withdraw from the process where a case of sexual violence has been made by another party. For example, Kelly et al. (2005) found that many complainants whose case had been reported to police by a health worker or in the context of a domestic violence investigation were unwilling to proceed (see also Lievore 2005; Triggs et al. 2009).

These findings highlight that, although responses to reports of sexual violence by police and other criminal justice personnel are important in minimising attrition, the preferences of individual complainants also play a key role. As Kelly et al. (2005: 62) argue:

[that] some people decide a rape investigation is either not what they sought, or not what they can sustain, is likely to remain the case however much the services and responses of professionals become more attuned to the realities of rape.

Prosecution

The literature is largely silent on prosecutorial decision-making in sexual offence cases, and this has been identified as an important area for future research (Fitzgerald 2006; Lievore 2005b), particularly given that a high proportion of attrition occurs at this stage in the criminal justice system (Lievore 2005b). Research does indicate, however, that prosecutorial decisions about whether to proceed with sexual offence cases primarily relate to the quality of the evidence and the associated likelihood of conviction. Specifically, ‘the likelihood of cases proceeding increases significantly where prosecutors are more certain about the prospects of success’ (Lievore 2005b: 5; see also Du Mont & Myhr 2000).

The reluctance of some victims to proceed is again a key reason for the withdrawal of cases at this stage of the criminal justice system (Lievore 2005b). Lievore (2005b: 5) argues that there may be a relationship between prosecutors’ beliefs about the likelihood of conviction and victims’ decisions to withdraw:

a victim may perceive a prosecutor’s advice that conviction is highly unlikely as an invitation not to proceed. This form of ‘discouragement’ may be intentional or unintentional and perhaps even altruistic in some instances (see also Du Mont & Myhr 2000).

Fitzgerald’s (2006) study of the attrition of sexual offences in the New South Wales criminal justice system found that cases were more likely to proceed to prosecution if:

  • the victim was aged over 10 years;
  • the victim was female;
  • the time elapsed between the offence and reporting of the offence was less than 10 years;
  • the alleged offender was known to the victim; and/or
  • the offence involved an aggravating factor.

Lievore (2005b) found that cases were most likely to proceed to prosecution if there was evidence of the use of force by the alleged offender and of non-consent on the part of the complainant. Du Mont and Myhr’s (2000) Canadian research posited that, while this may be due to victims who physically or verbally resist a sexual attack being perceived as more credible witnesses, it may also be due to the individual psychological make-up of these victims. Previous research has indicated that women who avoided being sexually assaulted by vigorously resisting had ‘high self-esteem and a sense of entitlement’ (Bart & O’Brien cited in Du Mont & Myhr 2000: 1127). Du Mont and Myhr (2000: 1127) therefore surmise that ‘a strong sense of esteem may help women who physically resist to assertively pursue their cases through a system criticized for being insensitive and traumatizing’.

Adjudication

Research indicates that many sexual offences that proceed to adjudication do not result in conviction. Fitzgerald’s (2006) study of attrition in sexual offence cases in the New South Wales criminal justice system found that 44 percent of individuals who appeared in court for a sexual offence against a child were found guilty of at least one sexual offence against a child, and 42 percent of individuals who appeared in court for a sexual offence against an adult were found guilty of at least one sexual offence of this type. This equates to approximately eight percent of all reported sexual offences against children and 10 percent of reported sexual offences against adults resulting in a conviction (Fitzgerald 2006).

Conviction rates for sexual offences are typically lower than for other offence types (see eg Fitzgerald 2006). Du Mont and Myhr’s (2000) Canadian research found that the use of physical force was the only significant predictor of conviction in sexual offence matters. Reasons for the failure to secure convictions in sexual offence cases are ‘complex and numerous’ (Borzycki 2007: 26). For example, Fitzgerald (2006) found that individuals appearing in court for a sexual offence are less likely to plead guilty than other defendants. Triggs et al.’s (2009) research in New Zealand found that, while a small proportion of defendants may be unfit to stand trial or have passed away, a larger proportion of cases adjudicated were either withdrawn/discharged or resulted in an acquittal.

Information on the reason for cases being withdrawn (by police or Crown prosecutors) was not available for most cases in the study; where information was available, reasons included victims not wanting to proceed, defendants pleading guilty to another charge in the case, and new contrary evidence (Triggs et al. 2009). This suggests that some factors relating to attrition are common across the investigation, prosecution and adjudication stages of the criminal justice system—certainly, victims’ reluctance to proceed can result in attrition at all of these stages.

It is important to note that attrition in sexual offence matters does not occur evenly throughout the criminal justice process. That is, sexual offence cases ‘fall out’ of the criminal justice system at some stages more than others. Fitzgerald’s (2006: 4) research found that:

the major points of attrition for sexual offences in the criminal justice system lie between reporting and clear up, and between clear up and the commencement of criminal proceedings.

This may vary according to a range of factors, including the relationship between the complainant and the defendant. Triggs et al. (2009: 65) found, for example, that:

current partners were more likely to be prosecuted, but, if prosecuted, were less likely to be convicted. Conversely, strangers were less likely to be prosecuted, but, if prosecuted, were more likely to be convicted.

Sexual offences in the Australian Capital Territory

Data on sexual offences in the ACT are available from a number of sources, including the AFP, JACS, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). As each of these data sources has limitations, this section provides an overview of the latest recorded statistics on sexual offences from each of these sources.

Police data

In 2009–10 ACT Policing recorded 291 sexual offences (AFP 2010). Table 2 shows all sexual offences in the ACT during 2009–10 by offence type, offence clear-up rate and sex of the person charged with each offence. Sexual offences are defined under Part 3 of the Crimes Act 1900 (ACT) (Appendix C). ‘Cleared’ offences are defined as those for which there is an outcome during the reporting period; ‘outcomes’ include identification of an alleged offender (eg through arrest, summons or other procedure, such as a police caution), withdrawal of the complaint or a determination that the offence was unsubstantiated (AFP 2010).

As Table 2 shows, clear-up rates for sexual offences varied substantially during 2009–10 according to the specific offence type. As clear-up rates do not relate exclusively to offences reported during the year, some clear-up rates appear to exceed 100 percent. This makes it difficult to determine with any accuracy the proportion of sexual offences that are cleared up in the ACT. JACS reports on these data each quarter (see eg JACS 2011).

According to the ABS (2011a), 55 offenders were proceeded against by ACT policing for a principal offence of ‘sexual assault and related offences’ during 2009–10. This equates to 1.9 percent of all offenders proceeded against by police during the period. In other jurisdictions, the proportion of offenders proceeded against whose principal offence was sexual assault or a related offence ranged from 0.6 percent in Tasmania to 2.1 percent in both Queensland and Western Australia (ABS 2011a). As a rate per 100,000 population, however, the ACT had the lowest rate of sexual offenders, at 17.7 per 100,000. The Northern Territory had the highest rate, at 87.7 per 100,000, and the national rate was 33.0 per 100,000 population (ABS 2011a).

The ABS (2011b) reports that during the 2010 calendar year 160 victims of sexual assault (44.9 per 100,000 population) reported an offence to ACT policing. Of these victims, 143 (89%) were female; 16 (10%) were male, and one (1%) did not have their sex recorded (ABS 2011). The rate of reported sexual offences in the ACT during 2010 was lower than in all other jurisdictions except Tasmania (30.1 per 100,000) and substantially lower than the national average (79.5 per 100,000) (ABS 2011b).

Of the 160 victims who reported a sexual offence to police, 66 percent reported that the offender was known to them. As Table 3 shows, the relationship to the alleged offender varied according to the sex of the complainant. While all male complainants were known to their alleged offender, over one-quarter (26%) of female complainants reported being sexually assaulted by strangers (ABS 2011b).

Table 3: Sexual assault complainants in the ACT, 2010, by sex and relationship to alleged offender
Males Females Total
Known to complainant
Family member
Partnera 0b 6 6
Other family member 6 10 15
Totalc 6 21 26
Non-family member
Ex-partnerd 0b 10 10
Other non-family member 3 7 11
Totale 10 69 80
Not known to complainant
Stranger 0b 37 37
Relationship not knownf 0b 16 17
Totalg 16 143 160

a: ‘Partner’ includes boyfriend–girlfriend relationships

b: zero denotes no count or counts rounded to zero (including null cells)

c: Includes other related family member that were not elsewhere classified

d: ‘Ex-partner’ includes ex-boyfriend–ex-girlfriend relationships.

e: Includes other non-family members not further defined

f: Includes ‘no offender identified’ and ‘not stated/inadequately described’. This denotes that the relationship of offender to victim has not been recorded or the information supplied is insufficient to classify elsewhere

g: Includes one complainant whose sex was not recorded

Source: Adapted from ABS (2011: 45)

Court data

According to the ABS (2011c), 41 defendants were adjudicated for sexual assault and related matters in all courts (Supreme Court, Magistrates Court and Children’s Court) in the ACT during 2009–10. During 2009–10, 32 defendants were adjudicated in relation to sexual assault and related matters in the ACT Supreme Court, and a further eight were adjudicated in the Magistrates Court. Three young people were adjudicated for sexual assault and related offences in the Children’s Court during this period (ABS 2011c).

More recent data from JACS (2011) indicate that during 2010–11, 66 sexual assault and related offences were adjudicated in the ACT courts (see Table 4).

Table 4: Sexual assault and related offences adjudicated in the ACT, 2010–11, by quarter and court
Magistrates Court Children’s Court Supreme Court Total
July–September 2010
Sexual assault 0 0 0 0
Non-assaultive sexual offences 9 0 6 15
October–December 2010
Sexual assault 0 0 0 0
Non-assaultive sexual offences 6 0 7 13
January–March 2011        
Sexual assault 2 0 1 3
Non-assaultive sexual offences 11 0 4 15
April–June 2011
Sexual assault 10 1 5 16
Non-assaultive sexual offences 2 0 2 4
Total 40 1 25 66

Source: Adapted from ACT Department of Justice and Community Safety (2011a; 2011b; 2010a; 2010b)

JACS (2011a; 2011b; 2010a; 2010b) also reports on the pleading behaviours of defendants in all courts in the ACT. Table 5 shows pleas relating to sexual assault and related offences in all ACT courts during 2010–11.

As Table 5 indicates, nearly half (46%; n=33) of all cases in relation to sexual assault and related offences in the ACT during 2010–11 were defended, over one-third (35%; n=25) were not defended, and a further 15 percent (n=11) were withdrawn by the prosecution. Although the small numbers of total pleas make it difficult to draw meaningful comparisons between sexual assault and non-assaultive sexual offences, it is worth noting that a higher proportion of non-assaultive sexual offence matters were withdrawn by the prosecution (25%; n=3) than was the case in sexual assault matters (14%; n=8).

Table 5: Pleas in relation to sexual assault and related offences in the ACT, 2010–11
  June–September 2010 October–December 2010 January–March 2011 April–June 2011 Total
Sexual assault Non-assaultive sexual offences Sexual assault Non-assaultive sexual offences Sexual assault Non-assaultive sexual offences Sexual assault Non-assaultive sexual offences
Undefended
Ex parte and guilty plea 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 3
Guilty plea 5 1 7 2 3 1 2 1 22
Defended
Defendeda 4 1 3 0 5 0 6 0 19
Not guilty plea 2 1 1 0 6 0 3 1 14
No plea 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Plea reserved 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Other defended pleab 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Not applicable
Withdrawn by prosecution 2 0 0 1 1 1 5 1 11
Deceased/unfit to plead 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 2
Unknown
Unknown 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total
Total 15 3 13 3 15 2 16 4 71

a: Defended—Ex-parté and not guilty plea, or, plea not applicable and acquitted or found not guilty

b: Other defended plea—includes Demurrer, No Jurisdiction, Autrefois Conviction, Autrefois Acquittal

c: Not Applicable—Plea not applicable and non-adjudicated finalisation (e.g. deceased, unfit to plead, withdrawn by prosecution, and so on)

Source: Adapted from JACS (2011a, 2011b, 2010a, 2010b)

As Table 6 indicates, over one-third (35%; n=25) of sexual assault and related matters were proven in the ACT during 2010–11. Most of these matters were finalised via a guilty plea by the defendant; only a small proportion were finalised via a finding of guilt by the court following a plea of not guilty (6% of all sexual assault and related matters; n=4). Only four percent (n=3) resulted in an acquittal. More commonly, matters were withdrawn by the prosecution (17%; n=12) or had an ‘unknown’ outcome (32%; n=23).

Improvements to data collection and reporting have resulted in the introduction of the outcome categories ‘committed for trial’ and ‘committed for sentence’. According to JACS (2011b), these categories capture data that were previously recorded as ‘unknown’ outcomes. It may be the case, therefore, that some of the high proportion of matters with an ‘unknown’ outcome were in fact committed for trial or sentence to the Supreme Court during 2010–11. Only limited data are available on the sentencing outcomes for sexual assault and related matters in the ACT during the 2010–11 period. Data reported by JACS (2011a; 2011b; 2010a; 2010b) indicate that the sentencing outcome in the majority of these matters is ‘unknown’ (70%; n=50). Thirteen percent of matters (n=9) resulted in a fixed term of full-time imprisonment. Small proportions resulted in a fully suspended sentence (7%; n=5), a partly suspended sentence (7%; n=5), a good behaviour bond (1%; n=1) and a term of periodic detention (1%; n=1).

Table 6: Outcomes for all sexual assault and related offence matters in the ACT, 2010–11
June–September 2010 October–December 2010 January–March 2011 April–June 2011

Total

Sexual assault Non-assaultive sexual offences Sexual assault Non-assaultive sexual offences Sexual assault Non-assaultive sexual offences Sexual assault Non-assaultive sexual offences
Proven
Guilty finding by court 0 1 0 0 1 0 1 1 4
Guilty plea by defendant 5 1 6 1 4 1 1 2 21
Guilty, ex-parte 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Unproven
Acquitted by court 0 0 1 0 0 0 2 0 3
Not guilty (mental illness) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
No case to answer 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Charge unproven 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Transfer
Transfer to another court 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Non-adjudicated
Defendant deceased 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Unfit to plead 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Withdrawn by prosecution 2 0 1 1 1 1 5 1 12
Transfer to non-court agency 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Other non-adjudicated 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Other
Committed for triala N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 7 0 7
Committed for sentenceb N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 0 0 0
Unknown 7 1 5 1 9 0 0 0 23
Total
Total 15 3 13 3 15 2 16 4 71

a: The new outcome ‘committed for trial’ was added to the JACS quarterly crime statistics reports for the April–June 2011 quarter. The category reflects data previously recorded under ‘unknown’ and is for matters that have been committed for trial in the Supreme Court.

b: The new outcome ‘committed for sentence’ was added to the JACS quarterly crime statistics reports for the April–June 2011 quarter. The category reflects data previously recorded under ‘unknown’ and is for matters that have been committed for sentence in the Supreme Court.

Source: Adapted from ACT Department of Justice and Community Safety (2011a; 2011b; 2010a; 2010b).

Summary

As Australian and international literature highlights, attrition of sexual assault victim/survivors occurs at each stage of the criminal justice system. Barriers even exist prior to reporting the offence, which can ultimately affect the progression of the case throughout the criminal justice system. The ACT has the lowest rate of sexual offenders compared to other jurisdictions, and one of the lowest rates of reported sexual offences. However, clear-up rates vary substantially. Just over one-third of matters were proven in the courts; the majority were finalised by guilty pleas. Trial delays contribute to cases taking over two years to be finalised in the ACT Courts, and many cases still ‘drop out’ before being finalised in court.

The implementation of SARP is a critical step in addressing these key barriers. The ACT is not isolated in attempting to address these challenges. There is a broader shift both in Australia and overseas to improve the experiences of sexual offence victim/survivors in the criminal justice system and the outcomes of their cases. See, for example, Victoria’s Sexual Assault Reform Strategy final evaluation report (http://www.justice.vic.gov.au/home/the+justice+system/ justice+sexual+assault+reform+strategy+-+final+evaluation+report+(pdf) and New Zealand’s Sexual Violence Research Project (http://www.mwa.govt.nz/our-work/svrproject/index.html/?searchterm=denise). Other reform projects and information can also be found on the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault website (http://www.aifs.gov.au/acssa/ research/lawpolicy.php).

Evaluating the SARP reforms is an important step towards identifying what is working in the current approach and which areas could be modified or enhanced to improve the experience of victim/survivors entering the criminal justice system.