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Sexual violence

Sexual violence

Every Australian deserves to live free from violence. The Australian Government is committed to providing national leadership to strengthen sexual assault laws, and to improve criminal justice responses to sexual assault.

2023–24 Budget measures

In the 2023–24 Budget, the Australian Government invested $14.7 million to strengthen the way the criminal justice system responds to sexual assault and to prevent further harm to victims and survivors through the justice process.

This included $6.5 million for the Attorney-General’s portfolio to work with states and territories to strengthen and harmonise sexual assault and consent laws, and improve criminal justice responses for victims and survivors.

This measure included funding to:

  • establish an Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into justice responses to sexual violence, with a focus on law reform proposals to strengthen sexual assault laws and improve the outcomes and experiences of victims and survivors in the justice system
  • host a ministerial-level roundtable on addressing sexual violence, bringing together victims and survivors, the service and advocacy sectors, other experts and state and territory ministers to drive nationwide, cross-sector collaboration and inform the terms of the ALRC inquiry
  • convene a lived-experience Expert Advisory Group to support the ALRC inquiry and advise Government on implementation of its recommendations, ensuring the voices of victims and survivors are centred in justice responses to sexual violence
  • drive nationwide efforts to strengthen criminal justice responses to sexual assault, including implementing the Standing Council of Attorneys-General Work Plan to Strengthen Criminal Justice Responses to Sexual Assault 2022-2027.

This work supports the implementation of the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children 2022-2032 and the Standing Council of Attorneys-General Work Plan to Strengthen Criminal Justice Responses to Sexual Assault 2022-2027.

On 23 January 2024, the Attorney-General announced the terms of reference for the ALRC inquiry into justice responses to sexual violence. The inquiry is being jointly led by the Hon Marcia Neave AO and Her Honour Judge Liesl Kudelka.

The inquiry will examine relevant laws and legal frameworks, justice sector practices, supports for victims and survivors, and transformative approaches to justice. The terms of reference are available on the ALRC’s website.

You can keep up to date on this inquiry by subscribing to the ALRC’s mailing list.

The ALRC is expected to report to the Australian Government by 22 January 2025.

The Attorney-General, alongside the Minister for Women and Minister for Social Services, convened a ministerial-level national roundtable on justice responses to sexual violence on 23 August 2023 in Sydney.

The roundtable brought together Australian, state and territory ministers to discuss with victims and survivors and their advocates the key challenges they face when seeking justice. Discussion themes included law reform and legal frameworks, supports and services within the justice system, policing, court processes, and alternative and transformative approaches to justice.

Read the outcomes summary of discussion at the roundtable. The outcomes informed the terms of reference for the ALRC inquiry and will inform other projects, where relevant.

On 23 January 2024, the Attorney-General announced the establishment of a lived-experience Expert Advisory Group (EAG) comprised of 20 lived-experience experts, including sexual violence victims and survivors and their advocates.

The EAG will inform the ALRC’s 12-month inquiry into justice responses to sexual violence and advise the government on implementing the ALRC inquiry’s recommendations.

The EAG’s first meeting will be held early 2024. EAG members will take part in quarterly meetings over a 2-year period.

Lived Experience Expert Advisory Group

The lived-experience experts on the EAG are:

  • Pip Brennan
  • Tori Cooke
  • Chris Coombes
  • Nicole Edwards
  • AJ George
  • Karen Iles
  • Kendall Jones
  • Debbie Kilroy
  • Imogen Lee
  • Yumi Lee
  • Nanushka
  • Sandra Noble
  • Sarah Odondi
  • Mish Pony
  • Dr Tasha Riley
  • Sarah Rosenberg
  • Professor S Caroline Taylor AM
  • Chris Thwaites
  • Danielle Villafaña
  • One anonymous participant

Work Plan to Strengthen Criminal Justice Responses to Sexual Assault 2022–2027

Sexual assault is a serious crime that can have devastating, cumulative and long-lasting effects on the lives of victims and survivors, their families and communities. While states and territories are primarily responsible for laws that criminalise sexual assault, the scale and severity of sexual violence across Australia makes this a nationally significant issue, requiring a nationally coordinated response.

Through the Standing Council of Attorneys-General (SCAG), previously named the Meeting of Attorneys-General, the Australian Government is leading a national discussion on strengthening criminal justice responses to sexual assault.

The officials-level Working Group on Criminal Justice Responses to Sexual Assault was established as a result, comprising justice officials from every jurisdiction. The Australian Government chairs the Working Group and provides secretariat support.

On 12 August 2022, participants endorsed the Work Plan to Strengthen Criminal Justice Responses to Sexual Assault 2022–2027.

Under the work plan, jurisdictions have committed to take collective and individual action to improve the experiences of victims and survivors of sexual assault in the criminal justice system. It focuses on the following priority areas:

  1. Strengthening legal frameworks to ensure victims and survivors have improved justice outcomes and protections, wherever necessary and appropriate, across Australia.
  2. Building justice sector capability to better support and protect victims and survivors.
  3. Supporting research and greater collaboration to identify best practices, and to ensure actions are supported by a sound and robust evidence base.

The Work Plan operates alongside ongoing and prospective initiatives that seek to improve responses to sexual violence that are being progressed at both the national and state and territory level.

This includes:

The Working Group meets quarterly to help administer the work plan and share ideas, expertise and resources.

The Working Group also produces annual progress reports, comprising an overview of key activities and progress against the 3 priority areas, and nation-wide environmental scans of related activities. These documents are available in the downloads section below.

To contact the Working Group, email the secretariat at sexual.violence.responses@ag.gov.au.

Visit the Standing Council of Attorneys-General page for more information, including meeting communiques.

The following initiatives are underway as part of work to implement the Work Plan:

This initiative supports implementation of Work Plan Priority 1: Legal Frameworks.

In partnership with the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC), we are progressing a national review and comparative analysis of sexual assault and child sexual abuse legislation across Australia. This will identify the impact of any substantive inconsistencies between legal frameworks, determine whether there are gaps in the conduct criminalised in each jurisdiction, and explore best-practice approaches.

Between March and May 2023, the AIC invited victims and survivors of sexual assault and child sexual abuse to share their experiences with the criminal justice system in Australia.
Submissions to the AIC closed on 31 May 2023.

We expect the review to be finalised in early 2024.

In addition to supporting Work Plan Priority 1, this review also responds to 2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame's address to the Meeting of Attorneys-General on 12 November 2021.

This initiative supports implementation of Work Plan Priority 2: Justice System Practices, Capabilities, and Supports.

We are developing and expanding resources and training for the justice sector, including the judiciary and legal practitioners, to build understanding and capability around engagement with victims and survivors and their families when they are navigating the criminal justice and family law systems.

This sits under a broader commitment being delivered in partnership with the Department of Social Services to develop a nationally-coordinated approach to education and training on family, domestic and sexual violence for frontline workers, legal practitioners, the judiciary, and the criminal justice sector.

We will also develop a national training package to enhance the effectiveness of police responses to family, domestic and sexual violence. We are currently leading a scoping study to inform the development of the package.

This initiative supports implementation of Work Plan Priority 3: Research and Collaboration.

We are undertaking a scoping study on alternative reporting mechanisms for victims and survivors of sexual assault to better meet the needs of victims and survivors and reduce the risk of re-traumatisation. This scoping study will take into regard and align with (where possible and appropriate) existing and forthcoming state and territory programs, and consider best practice to embed trauma-informed and culturally safe mechanisms to inform consideration of the merits of a national approach.

This initiative supports implementation of Work Plan Priority 2: Justice System Practices, Capabilities, and Supports.

We are undertaking a scoping study to explore options to improve access to witness intermediaries to support witnesses (including complainants) to give their best evidence when engaging with the Commonwealth criminal justice system.

Specialised and Trauma-informed Legal Services for Victims and Survivors of Sexual Assault

This initiative supports implementation of Work Plan Priority 2: Justice System Practices, Capabilities, and Supports.

We are piloting 3 legal service delivery models to provide specialised and trauma-informed legal services to victims and survivors, supporting them to participate in the justice system, guided by their own goals in their journey of recovery.

Victoria Legal Aid, Djirra, and Women’s Legal Service Victoria will work together to expand Victoria’s state-wide Victims Legal Service (VLS) to provide legal information for victims and survivors of sexual assault through the VLS helpline, and targeted advice and casework for victims and survivors seeking to protect confidential communications.

The model will also provide tailored support for Aboriginal victims and survivors to report sexual assault to police.

Women’s Legal Service WA, Aboriginal Family Legal Services, and Ruah Legal Services will provide state-wide integrated, wrap-around specialised and trauma‑informed legal services for victims and survivors. They will deliver services at known points of victim and survivor disengagement and withdrawal from the legal process.

Women’s Legal Centre ACT and Victim Support ACT will establish the ACT Sexual Assault Legal Service and provide legal assistance (including legal representation) to support victims and survivors to engage with the criminal justice system and related legal issues.

They will provide integrated, wrap-around services for victims and survivors, including financial assistance, counselling, and specialist support.

The models were selected following a competitive, merit-based assessment process.

To inform the selection and development of the models, we ran a national consultation process. We consulted with:

  • states and territories
  • victims and survivors and their advocates
  • people from populations and cohorts who are overrepresented in sexual assault statistics
  • legal service providers.

In addition to targeted stakeholder workshops, we also released a public discussion paper, and invited submissions.

Dedicated funding for evaluation will measure the pilot’s impact and inform future legal services for victims and survivors across Australia.

Downloads

Contact us

For more information, send your enquiry to:

Email: sexual.violence.responses@ag.gov.au

or

Mail: Responses to Sexual Assault Section
Children and Families Division 
Attorney-General's Department
3–5 National Circuit
BARTON ACT 2600

Support services

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, free and confidential 24-hour support services are available online and via telephone.

If you are, or someone else is, in immediate danger, call Triple Zero: 000.

The National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service, 1800Respect, provides support for people experiencing violence and abuse, and contains an online searchable database to locate services in your area. Call 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800Respect.org.au.

For crisis support or suicide prevention services, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.LifeLine.org.au.

MensLine Australia is a telephone and online counselling service offering support for men with concerns about mental health, anger management, family violence, substance abuse, and healthy relationships. Call 1300 78 99 78 or visit www.mensline.org.au.