This is the season to be merry, and Canberrans aren’t holding back after restrictions and a lockdown that kept them contained and brought the hospitality industry to its knees.
So at a time when people are returning to venues for end of year celebrations, it was disturbing to hear this week of the experience of one Canberra woman at a city nightclub and then the release of a report into sexual assault, both of which pointed to the dangers women face and the indifferent response they receive from police and authorities.
Alice says she does not feel safe going out in Canberra at night after a man attacked her in the toilet of a nightclub.
Security threw the attacker out but police were not called and when Alice went to the police to make a complaint she says they told her it would be too difficult to pursue.
Two fails from her point of view: first from the club for not providing safe premises and ensuring police deal with such behaviour; second, the police for finding excuses not to investigate.
The result is a violent man on the loose who may re-offend.
For Alice, it falls into an all too common pattern of behaviour at Canberra nightspots that also includes drink spiking. Owners do have a duty of care and their licence should be on be line if they cannot or will not meet their responsibilities.
The confronting Listen. Take Action to Prevent, Believe and Heal report Renée Leon delivered to the ACT Government also called out the way survivors are treated and the inadequate response of police and other services.
In 2020, less than 3 per cent of sexual offences reported to ACT Policing resulted in charges being laid against the offender. And the number of offences reported to police is already underreported.
It seems police on the front line are not keen to get involved in what they perceive as difficult investigations, contributing to women lacking confidence that they will be taken seriously and their complaints acted on.
One victim-survivor said, “the hardest part ended up not being the rape, but the way the system responded”.
This is a depressingly familiar story, and Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan admits it is clearly not good enough.
The report recommends more education and training for front line workers and support services to improve the experience for survivors, but how long will it take for women who face violence to be heard and the perpetrators made accountable?
It also is aimed at addressing the drivers of sexual violence recommending improved sexual and consent education in schools.
But the feeling is the onus remains very much on women to be responsible for their own safety and progress to changes in men’s behaviour is painfully slow.
In the meantime, police need to be more proactive at nightspots, take assault against women, sexual or otherwise, more seriously and act on a complaint without prejudice.
ACT Policing might argue it needs more resources to throw at the problem, and that is an ongoing discussion, but as Canberrans enjoy a well-deserved festive season, they also deserve to let their hair down safely and be confident that if something does happen there will be a reckoning for the perpetrator.