Push for ‘nation-leading’ sexual offences court in ACT

Advocates in the ACT want a specialist, trauma-informed court to deal with sexual offences.

By Tess Ikonomou in Canberra

A NATION-leading specialist sexual offence court should be established in the ACT to deliver trauma-informed justice, advocates say.

Marisa Paterson, a Labor member of the territory’s Legislative Assembly, and sexual violence responders will on Monday call on ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr to change the criminal justice system.

Dr Paterson said the status quo was not sufficient, with research finding sexual offences were under-reported, under-prosecuted and had low conviction rates.

“I believe here in the ACT we have the opportunity to be nation-leading in how our justice system addresses sexual offences,” she said.

“There is increasing international evidence highlighting the benefits of a specialist, trauma-informed court in progressing justice.”

The latest statistics show there were more than 500 reports of sexual offences to police in the ACT in 2021-2022.

Of those cases in the territory that did progress to court, only seven per cent resulted in conviction.

Dr Paterson said the data was exacerbating community concern the system was failing victims.

The Canberra Rape Crisis Centre, Domestic Violence Crisis Service and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body are among the community organisations that have backed the call in an open letter.

“Victim-survivors of these crimes often report that they experience significant challenges in reporting sexual offences to the police and are often re-victimised through court processes,” it reads.

The letter says the ability to achieve justice through the current system in the ACT is “deeply concerning”.

A pilot of a specialist court in NZ in 2016 was found to have progressed cases more quickly, with judges intervening more often to prevent “unacceptable questioning”.

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