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How the Sexual Assault Reform Program intends to effect change

The success of SARP depends on the context in which it operates. Key to understanding the effect of SARP on its objectives is to recognise that the reforms were not introduced in isolation but operate alongside other legislation, programs and competing resourcing requirements within the ACT criminal justice system, and are influenced by the broader environment. Indeed, it has been recognised that a program in and of itself cannot be the cause of change; rather, it is the action taken, decisions made and resources provided by various stakeholders that enable change (Pawson & Tilley 1997). It is therefore important to assess how well each reform implemented actually effected the intended change in the context in which it was introduced.

As previously mentioned, SARP has introduced, among other things, the following key reforms:

  • three additional victim support positions (two positions specifically for victim support and one for witness assistance at the DPP);
  • 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; and
  • development of an accredited inter-agency training and evaluation initiative.
  • These reforms are expected to exert change via the following key mechanisms:
  • reducing the length of time a victim/survivor spends in the criminal justice system,
  • providing more support at the time of contact,
  • improving coordination among agencies, and
  • reducing the impact of reporting sexual offences on victim/survivors.

Reducing the length of time a victim/survivor needs to spend waiting for a court appearance—this is considered to contribute to the reduction of victim/survivor attrition throughout the criminal justice process. This is meant to occur by decreasing the amount of time the victim/survivor spends ‘in limbo’ waiting for a hearing or outcome, Being in limbo is considered to heighten the risk of distress and subsequent attrition in the criminal justice system.

Providing more support at the time of contact and improving coordination among agencies—this would occur through the streamlining of processes—that is, agencies collaborating to (1) see where delays might occur, (2) prevent delays and (3) reduce any overlap of services to a victim/survivor or identify any gaps in service provision to limit the chance of under- or over-servicing. The increased and more targeted support is also expected to empower the victim/survivor to remain in the criminal justice system and thus could contribute to a reduction in attrition. Better training and development of stakeholder agency staff in regard to the reforms would make them aware of what changes have occurred and what services their agency and/or Wraparound can offer to victim/survivors. This should help victim/survivors have more positive contact with the criminal justice system, and ensure that they receive appropriate support.

Reducing the impact of reporting sexual offences—improving technology used during reporting and court (such as tape-recording and video equipment) should lessen the impact and intrusive nature of many reporting practices used in the criminal justice system. It can also help reduce the chance of equipment failure or poor recording, thereby limiting the need for victim/survivors to re-record or repeat their evidence and experiencing additional trauma. These changes should result in victim/survivors being less distressed and more comfortable when giving evidence and less likely to leave the criminal justice system. It could also mean that victim/survivors feel more supported and satisfied even if the outcome is not in their favour.

If the above mechanisms work as intended, the reforms should achieve their objectives—namely: an improvement in processes and support for victims of sexual offences as they progress through the criminal justice system, reduced attrition, and improved coordination and collaboration among agencies involved in administering SARP. On the other hand, if the reforms put in place are not operating as intended, it is important to know this and examine whether these reforms have any unintended effects (either positive or negative).

When reviewing the indicators for each objective, the contextual influences on the success of each indicator are discussed. Many of the indicators are in terms of outputs, such as the number of Wraparound meetings or number of cases that progress to the Supreme Court. Many of these outputs do not of themselves indicate positive outcomes for victim/survivors—nor whether the processes and coordination among service delivery providers have improved. For this reason this report discusses many indicators concurrently and, where there is overlap in findings, describes them in detail only once, referring in subsequent sections to that detail to reduce repetition.

Wraparound

An integral part of SARP, Wraparound is the coordinated response to victim/survivors of sexual offences reporting to ACT Policing. The primary function of Wraparound is to provide a mobile counselling and support service that responds to the victim/survivors when they first present to police or forensic/medical services (http://crcc.org.au/assistance/legal). There are two components to Wraparound: the first is the MoU established between ACT Policing and CRCC that specifies that CRCC will be contacted when the police attend a sexual offence case; the second is the offer to the victim/survivor entry to the Wraparound process (see objectives of the Wraparound terms of reference in Appendix B).

The key mechanism behind Wraparound is for a victim/survivor to engage earlier with support services and thus be more likely to stay in the process and get a better outcome, leading to reduced attrition (Consultation with ACT Policing). Each organisation contributes to different aspects of the Wraparound process in an effort to deliver effective services to victim/survivors of sexual offences, and to reduce duplication of services. Wraparound also seeks to avoid overservicing some victim/survivors and conversely, to make sure that victim/survivors do not fall through any gaps in service delivery (underservicing).

Clients predominantly enter Wraparound via contact with police. Police seek victim/survivors’ consent to be referred to Wraparound and, if obtained, victim/survivors are given a victim liaison officer (VLO) to be their primary support and contact. (Those who do not consent are still assigned a VLO, even if they do not access their support.) Not all victim/survivors enter Wraparound on first contact; clients can be engaged through other means (eg CRCC or VSACT referral). Although Wraparound is designed for victim/survivors who intend to progress through the criminal justice system, support is still provided to those who do not enter the system (Consultation with VSACT).

Wrapround meetings are held monthly, where cases are discussed in regards to any problems or issues arising, victim/survivor needs (eg whether they have support, who they will be referred to), and any developments in the case (eg status of investigation or trial). Support services such as CRCC and VSACT can maintain contact with victim/survivors for many years, even beyond a case being finalised. However, victims in the post-sentence stage do not generally continue to be involved with Wraparound, although they may still stay engaged with a support agency (Consultation with VSACT).

The following agencies are members of Wraparound:

  • Canberra Rape Crisis Centre (CRCC);
  • Service Assisting Male Survivors of Sexual Assault (SAMSSA) (this is a service run by CRCC);
  • ACT Policing, Australian Federal Police (ACT Policing);
  • Victim Support ACT (VSACT);
  • Children at Risk Health Unit (CARHU);
  • Care and Protection Services (CPS);
  • Forensic and Medical Sexual Assault Care (FAMSAC); and
  • Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

Wraparound is designed to:

  • ensure appropriate and adequate support is provided to victims who report sexual offences to the police;
  • provide a coordinated response to victims’ case management; and
  • provide information to, and communicate with, victims throughout their involvement with the criminal justice process (see http://www.aifs.gov.au/acssa/ppdb/wraparound.html).

The services provided by Wraparound are a central focus of this evaluation.