Rape allegations shed light on challenges facing sexual assault survivors

Rape accusations against Attorney-General Christian Porter have highlighted the barriers facing sexual assault survivors seeking justice.

The historical allegations against the nation’s top law officer were made by a woman Mr Porter knew 33 years ago, who took her own life last year.

Last week the case ground to a standstill when NSW Police announced on Tuesday it had closed its investigation into the claims and on Wednesday Mr Porter denied the accusations.

The South Australian coroner says an investigation into the death of the woman is “not finished”, as calls continue to grow for an independent inquiry into the case.

Independent inquiry or not, a clear outcome is now virtually impossible – especially given the complainant cannot be cross-examined.

Either way, sexual assault cases rarely result in a criminal prosecution.

The New Daily is not suggesting Mr Porter is guilty of the allegation.

The high-profile case is just one illustration of the barriers that prevent most sexual assault survivors from achieving justice.

As the data shows, sexual offences are chronically under-charged and under-prosecuted.

Of the alleged sexual offences that are reported to police each year, very few result in charges – and even fewer result in court proceedings.

Research suggests a range of reasons why police may not prosecute following a reported sexual offence.

They include:

  • The alleged offender cannot be identified or located
  • The police or prosecution do not believe there is enough evidence to prosecute a case
  • Witnesses to the offence are unwilling to make statements or give evidence in court.

Even if the police and prosecution consider the complainant to be credible and recognise the incident as an offence, they might decide not to prosecute a case because they think a conviction is unlikely.

The statistics

At least one in five women in Australia have experienced sexual violence by a man since the age of 15, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

And they’re only the cases we know about.

Most of the time (in roughly 87 per cent of sexual assault cases), victims won’t report it to police.

The reasons why are complicated.

But a survey conducted in 2017 about Australians’ attitudes towards sexual violence against women tell us one part of the picture.

After analysing their findings, researchers estimated that, of Australians aged 16 and over:

  • One in three (33 per cent) believed that “rape resulted from men not being able to control their need for sex”
  • One in 10 (11 per cent) believed that women were “probably lying” about sexual assault if they did not report it straight away
  • Two in five (42 per cent) agreed that “it was common for sexual assault accusations to be used as a way of getting back at men”
  • One in eight (13 per cent) believed that a man is justified in raping a woman if she initiated intimacy in a scenario where a couple had just met.

Contrary to the scenes depicted in horror films, a typical rapist is rarely a stranger wielding a knife or gun in a dark alleyway.

ABS data shows that most of the time, the victim knows exactly who it is.

He could be a friend, a classmate, a boss or an ex-partner.

And nearly always, it’s a man.

Between 2018 and 2019, a staggering 97 per cent of sexual assault offenders reported to police were men.

Young men aged 15 to 19 years old were identified as the biggest offenders of any age group.

Statistically, sexual assault charges are less likely to result in a “guilty” finding than other serious offences.

In 2019 alone, nearly 27,000 people were sexually assaulted in Australia, according to ABS data.

Of those, the vast majority of victims (83 per cent) were female and the incidents did not involve a weapon.

That’s 22,337 women in one year – and many more who did not go to police.

  • For confidential support and services around sexual assault, contact 1800 RESPECT online or by phone on 1800 737 732. If you or someone you know needs help contact Life Line on 13 11 14
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