21 September 2023

Dedicated legal service announced for sexual assault victim-survivors to have 'someone in their corner'

| Claire Fenwicke
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Margie Rowe, Elena Rosenman and Shane Rattenbury

Acting Victims of Crime Commissioner Margie Rowe, Women’s Legal Centre ACT CEO Elena Rosenman and Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury announcing the pilot service for victim-survivors of sexual assault in the ACT. Photo: Supplied.

For the first time, victim-survivors of sexual assault and violence will have a dedicated, independent person in their corner to give legal advice and representation if they choose to make a complaint to police and go through the court process.

A sexual assault legal service pilot will be developed in the ACT to combat negative experiences reported by victim-survivors when engaging with the court process.

The Women’s Legal Centre ACT and Victims Support ACT developed a proposal that has been selected as part of a national pilot of specialised and trauma-informed legal services for sexual assault victim-survivors.

Women’s Legal Centre ACT CEO Elena Rosenman said victim-survivors continuously lamented their lack of a voice and limited participation in court proceedings.

“In 2021, two in three victim-survivors of sexual assault reported negative experiences with their engagement with the justice system,” she said.

“Our deep hope is that, by providing a clear, visible service in the community that is dedicated to representing the best interests of victim-survivors of sexual assault, that we’re going to be part of changing that story in the ACT.”

The Commonwealth Government had announced in the October 2022 Federal Budget $8.4 million over three years to pilot three specialised and trauma-informed legal services across Australia.

Canberra was one of the three locations chosen, with proposals from Victoria and Western Australia also selected.

When alleged sexual violence cases reach the courts, complainants can only be witnesses and not a party to their own case.

Ms Rosenman hoped this new service would help women feel more confident that they will be supported through the process.

“We’re hoping what will happen is that, through independent legal advice and representation, their needs and their best interests will be best represented through the proceedings,” she said.

“We’re hoping by doing this we’ll be able to support better criminal justice responses to sexual violence.”

They’ll also be able to offer advice and representation when a person decides to report to police, in related legal matters such as in a domestic violence context, and sexual harassment advice if the alleged offending has occurred in a workplace.

READ ALSO New ACT human rights commissioner outlines key priorities ahead of stepping into role

The pilot service will be available to people at all stages of the process, including general advice and information, engagement with police and the prosecution, support and advice during the criminal proceedings and post-sentence, referrals, and wraparound client support coordination.

Acting Victims of Crime Commissioner Margie Rowe said the team was excited to expand the support it could offer.

“We will be working closely with partners in criminal justice agencies and specialist support services to improve the experiences of victim-survivors engaging with the justice system,” she said.

Ms Rowe said many rights were already available to victim-survivors in the justice system, but it was difficult for people to assert those rights without support.

“This service will provide both those things in terms of case managers and trauma-informed wraparound services, as well as access to a lawyer.”

Financial assistance, counselling and specialist support will also be provided, with the services available to women, children, transgender people and people who identify as non-binary.

READ ALSO Woman alleges the two men accused of raping her at a hotel ‘wouldn’t listen’ to her pleas to stop

Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury described the proposal’s success and the development of the pilot service as a “significant step” in providing more adequate and appropriate support for victim-survivors of sexual violence.

Mr Rattenbury felt this service would help address a “clear message” that the system was complex for complaints and that they needed more support to navigate it.

“Given the difficult nature of these matters, how sensitive and personal it is for an individual, having a person in their corner … will be very powerful in encouraging people to come forward and feel they won’t be alone in the process,” he said.

Responses to sexual assault and treatment of victim-survivors in the Territory has been highlighted recently through the Board of Inquiry into the ACT’s criminal justice systems.

Issues were also previously outlined in the 24 recommendations from the Listen. Take Action to Prevent, Believe and Heal Report from the end of 2021.

Several advocacy groups have also recently called for a specialist sexual offences court to be established in the ACT.

Since then, the ACT Government has committed more than $15 million over five years to improve sexual assault prevention and responses in the Territory.

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Where are the contact details for this new service??? Why are they not highlighted for those who need them? The phone number should be in people’s phones, so that they instantly have access to someone to talk with.

As the article has made clear, this program is being run by the Women’s Legal Centre. The WLC provides wide ranging help and support to women from all walks of life and their children seeking assistance and advocacy.

Their website contains all of their info:


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