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Leading a national approach to justice for victims and survivors of sexual assault, harassment and coercive control

Media Release

The Commonwealth Government will lead a national discussion with state and territory governments, to develop a joint program of work to strengthen the justice response to sexual assault, sexual harassment and coercive control.

Attorney-General Michaelia Cash said the Government would lead a new multijurisdictional initiative, aimed at ensuring victims and survivors of sexual violence and coercive control have similar protections and legal avenues throughout Australia.

"The Australian Government has a zero tolerance for family and sexual violence and sexual harassment," the Attorney-General said.

"We will be working with the states and territories to strengthen the relevant laws and ensure justice for victims."

While state and territory jurisdictions are responsible for criminal law matters relating to family and sexual violence and sexual harassment, the variations in law from state to state make justice and community education a challenging issue.

"We are working towards a better system, one which will reassure sexual assault and sexual harassment victims that the justice system will provide consistent outcomes," the Attorney-General said.

Consistency in the various elements of the law and justice system would better ensure that all victims and survivors of family violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment would be able to access the same safeguards regardless of where an offence occurred.

It would also achieve greater clarity and uniformity with respect to application of relevant offences. The multijurisdictional initiative project will look at issues such as:

  • Sentencing: the initiative may explore current sentencing parameters for the relevant offences across Australia and agree to a sentencing framework or set of guiding principles to ensure offenders are subject to serious penalties for engaging in these dangerous behaviours. This framework could consider existing offences and prospective offences, such as coercive control offences.
  • Evidence law: the Commonwealth would lead a national discussion on how reforms can facilitate greater admissibility of evidence in criminal and civil proceedings relating to sexual assault and sexual harassment matters. This initiative may consider reforms aimed at ensuring that probative tendency and coincidence evidence is not unnecessarily precluded, which in turn can lead to unwarranted acquittals in prosecutions.
  • Coercive control: the project would look at developing a consistent national understanding and the co-design of national principles for states and territories that choose to criminalise coercive control.
  • Consent: A national discussion about the definition of consent and circumstances where consent is not given will lead to greater understanding of what constitutes sexual assault and better support victim-survivors to report sexual assault and seek justice.
  • Protections for vulnerable witnesses: the Commonwealth is well-placed to lead a discussion on options to ensure consistent protections for victim-survivors across all jurisdictions when they seek justice through criminal proceedings.
  • Minimum sentencing standards: the Commonwealth would facilitate conversations with the states and territories to identify differences and commonalities in sentences handed down to offenders convicted of family and gender based violence offences, and explore opportunities for further harmonisation and consistency across Australia.
  • Specialist sexual offence courts: the Commonwealth would lead a national discussion with states and territories to investigate the merits of specialist sexual offence courts. Specialist courts may be equipped with specialised staff (including judges), and have specific procedures, support services and arrangements, to address the significant barriers faced by victims in seeking justice through the courts system.

The majority of criminal laws relating to sexual violence are the responsibility of states and territories. The Commonwealth is seeking to address how the laws can be harmonised and how we can work towards a consistent response to domestic, family and sexual violence around the country.

This initiative aligns with the current and future National Plans to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children and the Government's Roadmap to Respect, which responds to the Respect@Work report.

For advice or information about domestic and family violence, 1800RESPECT is a free, national telephone service: call 1800 737 732.