On March 14th, over 100,000 women rallied across Australia as part of the March4Justice protests, which advocated for stronger state responses to sexual violence, particularly for sexual violence against women.
This was instigated by the recent growth of sexual violence and misconduct allegations against some of Australia’s highest political offices. This includes allegations against Attorney-General Christian Porter and former political advisors of current Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and have expanded to schools and other workplaces.
National discussions pertaining to sexual violence were also ignited by a controversial proposal by the New South Wales (NSW) Police Force. This past week, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller had proposed an app that digitally records mutual consent for sex, which functions similarly to a COVID exposure tracking app, based on the belief that this will lead to more affirmative consent. Originally designed to “keep [sexual assault] matters out of the justice system,” Fuller faced significant backlash against this app for its inadmissibility as evidence in criminal court proceedings.
“We need consent law reform, we need holistic education, we need to stop men feeling they are entitled to whatever they want… WE DO NOT NEED AN APP!!” tweeted Jenny Leong, a Member of Parliament for New South Wales.
This development attributes to the significant barriers that victims of sexual violence face when reporting sexual assault and achieving criminal justice. Skepticism as to whether law enforcement responses truly address the circumstances that victims, particularly women, face when reporting sexual assault crimes has risen. Women’s rights activists have explained that this proposed ‘quick-fix’ solution can too easily be manipulated by perpetrators and makes it even harder for women to be heard.
Further, other institutional entities such as a judicial system, have also contributed to these ongoing barriers for women when reporting sexual assault crimes. Women’s Safety NSW explains that solutions need to “unpack why so many women are not wanting to report” and to change the public discourse towards sexual assault victims in a manner that is free of shame.
Although this app was designed to “improve reports of sexual assault crimes,” prosecution success rates of such crimes remain at only two percent, thereby demonstrating that judicial bodies are failing to achieve justice for many victims. In fact, less than 10% of the nearly 15,000 sexual assault cases reported to NSW police last year resulted in police charges, according to official reports by the NSW police. This further depicts an institutional obstacle and fundamental lack of trust in government bodies for sexual assault survivors that cannot be solved with technology alone.
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