I rise to speak on Mr Grimley’s motion. Can I say from the outset that I thank Mr Grimley, Ms Maxwell, Ms Patten and others who constantly bring these things to the chamber, quite properly, so that we can have ongoing meaningful dialogue in such an important area of public policy, and I commend everybody who commits themselves to advancing these matters.
The Victorian Law Reform Commission has delivered, as has been noted by others, the Improving the Justice System Responses to Sexual Offences report. Amongst the many impressive findings and recommendations, the VLRC identified online reporting as an important option for addressing high levels of under-reporting of sexual offences, giving people more choice in how they report a sexual offence. The more choice that we provide, the better. We know that the under-reporting of sexual assault is prevalent. I think the very vast majority of sexual assaults go unreported or under-reported. Mr Grimley quoted a number—I think 87 per cent or in that space—in terms of under-reporting. So the more options that we provide for victims of sexual assault to report crimes against them, the better. The government is carefully considering all of the recommendations that were made by the VLRC in that report, some 91 recommendations. We remain committed to improving the experiences of sexual offence victims and survivors throughout the justice system.
Work is underway to improve the system, and we are committed, as I said, to doing so. We have already committed to some major reforms that will make it clear that there is no place for sexual violence in Victoria—and there is no place for it. There can never be any place for sexual violence. We have delivered some $5.2 million in a funding boost to specialist sexual assault services to address what was an expected spike in referrals for services following the release of the VLRC report. I think that is the point that I was making at the top of my contribution: the importance of Mr Grimley and others continuing to shine a light on this very important area of public policy. What it does do is it does empower victims of these sorts of crimes to be able to come forward and the system to recognise those victim-survivors and provide the necessary support. The funding that we have provided through that $5.2 million funding boost allows the hiring of extra staff to provide specialist support sessions to hundreds more victim-survivors.
We have also announced we are adopting a new affirmative model of consent in Victoria in line with the VLRC’s recommendations, and work to develop this model is well underway. What we hope is that these changes, and this change in particular, will send a clear message that a person has a responsibility to say or do something to obtain consent prior to engaging in sexual activity with another person. It is most important that there is clarity at all times—that there is consent in those circumstances. There can never be grey area; there can never be any doubt. We must always ensure that there is clarity around that model of consent. Importantly it will also help, we say, to shift the focus away from the actions of the victim-survivor to those of the accused.
We will also amend laws explicitly criminalising stealthing, the removal of a condom or other protection during sex without the other person’s knowledge or consent. This change makes it clear that this act is a violation of consent and is against the law. The VLRC made it especially clear that to address sexual violence, abuse and harm, piecemeal reform is not enough and delivering meaningful change requires reforms spanning primary prevention and community education initiatives, support for victim-survivors, perpetrator interventions through to criminal investigations and justice responses. The government remains committed to achieving these aims and is continuing to consult and develop the reforms to prevent and address sexual violence, abuse and harm that will capture the government’s broad response to the VLRC’s recommendations. We continue to engage with stakeholders on those reforms, particularly the ones proposed by the VLRC, including the critical reform for online reporting that I know is contained in Mr Grimley’s motion, and we look forward to providing a report on those consultations as time goes on. The development of an online reporting mechanism will be an important part of our work to improve responses to and outcomes for victim-survivors.
Others have talked about specific concerns with Mr Grimley’s motion, and specifically what the government would say is that if we were to act strictly in accordance with the motion that Mr Grimley has brought to the chamber it could well derail some of the work that is already underway. We know that the VLRC’s report is comprehensive and priorities within that report need to be carefully balanced. As I said a few moments ago, there are some 91 recommendations, and it is important that we carefully work through those to ensure that the most urgent areas of reform that are required are the ones that are enacted as quickly as we can possibly do so. Those things take time. They take work, but work is underway, and we will continue with those processes. Just as an example, the new alternative reporting mechanism that has been talked about cannot be rushed. It must consider both operational logistics and complexities as well as legal complexities. We are engaging very closely with stakeholders on those reforms proposed by the VLRC, including this critical reform for online reporting.
The call to begin an Engage Victoria consultation we say is unnecessary and could be problematic in repeating consultations that are already underway or have occurred and delaying any work on the reporting alternative as well as other reforms. We also respectfully say that the time frame that Mr Grimley proposes is also problematic in light of those existing processes and the design complexity that I talked about.
In the minute or so that I have left just prior to the lunch break can I just say that it is important that we acknowledge in this place that sexual violence is heavily under-reported. We know that. Probably only one in 10 incidents are ever reported, for a variety of reasons which I will not do the deep dive into. There are others far more qualified than I to speak on those matters. The under-reporting was very much acknowledged and highlighted by the VLRC, and they reminded us that even though sexual violence is widespread it is one of if not the most under-reported crimes in society. As I indicated earlier, I think Mr Grimley has mentioned a figure that in the order of 87 per cent of people who experience sexual violence do not report it to the police and only about half, if that, even seek support from anyone at all, including a friend or a family member. So we understand that reaching out to a support service and providing the options for victims of these heinous crimes is important. There is much more to be said. I know there are many speakers still to follow. With those remarks I will leave my contribution there.