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Support for sexual violence legislative change

Southern support for sexual violence legislative change
Rachael Goldsmith
11/09/08

Southland support services are excited that New Zealand’s court system may soon have a friendlier process for sexual crime victims.

The Ministry of Justice in August released a public discussion document, seeking submissions to improve sexual violence legislation.

Topics considered include the adversarial court system, which requires victims to prove the attack took place, rather than putting the onus on the offender.

Other discussion topics include the possibility and relevance of a victims’ previous sexual history being discussed at trial.

Public Health South mental health promoter Andrai Gold has consulted with local community groups, including the police, Rape Crisis and the Family Violence Focus Group.

She said reactions to the discussion document were largely positive.

Issues identified by the groups included increased support for victims, such as a support person or advocate who would support the victim from the complaint to the trial process.

They agreed that the adversarial court system discouraged victims from reporting, and supported a system that required the offender to prove consent.

Ms Gold said that the current system made it too traumatic for many women to consider laying a complaint.

Police statistics show 82 Southland women reported a sexual crime to the police in 2007. Of those, 53 offenders were arrested.

A Southland Rape and Abuse Support Centre spokeswoman said that reported attacks were a “drop in the ocean” and the true figures were much higher.

New Zealand studies have shown that 19 percent of women and 5 percent of men are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.

Ministry of Justice figures suggest that victims of sexual crimes are the least likely to report to the police.

The ministry estimates up to 90 percent of sexual crimes in New Zealand go unreported.

It says the current system contributes to low reporting rates and even lower conviction rates.

The document is available on the Ministry of Justice website, and submissions can be made until September 30.

ENDS

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