Attrition in sexual assault cases is appallingly high. Only a small percentage of crimes are ever reported and even fewer result in a charge, prosecution or conviction. There are many reasons for this, not least of which is a culture which has for far too long held victims responsible and, time and time again, provided perpetrators with impunity. Sexual assault and sexual abuse have been, and still too often continue to be, ‘no-crime’ crimes – tacitly, and even overtly, condoned and supported by both society and the justice system.
One response seeking to address this manifest failure of the legal system is the ‘whole truth’ framework. An approach to the collecting and reporting of evidence that is specifically tailored to, and takes into account, the attributes of sexually violent crimes. It is mindful of the fact that sexual assault cases are often “crimes of relationship” and that therefore that relationship must be considered in court. The relationships perpetrators cultivate, abuse and exploit in order to commit their crimes are significant and relevant and evidence to that effect must be collected.
The ‘whole truth’ framework proactively addresses and challenges the social scripts and beliefs that have allowed for the tenacity of victim-blaming in the legal system and the resolute inability of the legal system to convict successfully on sexual violence matters. This is an approach that asks the system: “How gullible are we that we keep falling for all these myths about how sex offending really happens?” This is an approach that integrates the research developed on these crimes, on the patterns and ways of offending, on the responses and reactions of victims and turns it into a framework for implementation in the legal system.
It is widely known – and acts as no insignificant deterrent to reporting – that the legal system is traumatic for victims. The ‘whole story’ framework is part of a range of changes that are taking place in Victoria in an attempt to improve the experience of victims going through the legal system including the establishment of specialised SOCIT units and the co-location of SOCIT units and CASA counselling and advocacy services under one roof. These are all changes that are taking seriously the testimony and experience of victims and mark an important shift in the system from victim-blaming to holding the perpetrator accountable.
Let’s hope that these changes achieve the cultural change, and subsequent convictions, they set out to.
- ACSSA interview with Patrick Tidmarsh of Victoria Police
- Truth, testimony, relevance: improving the quality of evidence in sexual offence cases, Australian Institute of Criminology
- ‘Telling the whole truth‘, Nicole Brady, The Age, September 30, 2012
- Attrition in sexual assault cases, Australian Law Reform Commission