Case against the ABC averted but problem not solved

Christian Porter has ended his defamation case against Louise Milligan and the ABC. 

It seems that both sides are claiming the agreed statement as a victory and, since the ABC is not up for damages, it’s a win-win. But is it?

Firstly, the ABC conceded very little – certainly nothing remotely close to the silly claim by Porter of a ‘humiliating backdown’ by the broadcaster.

Secondly, the much-publicised case has, in all probability, been a clever distraction from the complaint made by the woman concerned – a case of case now closed.

And thirdly, we are no closer to protecting women from sexual assault nor punishing the perpetrators. The problem is getting worse. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, women in their late teens are most likely to be victims of sexual assault.

Rape is a serious and indictable offence but almost impossible to prove in our judicial system. Proof beyond reasonable doubt is impossible without genetic evidence to prove intercourse. Shortage of forensic doctors, the unrealistic expectation that victims, particularly young ones, are able to present within the 72-hour timeframe after of the assault to collect the evidence, and the questionable status of consent all act against a just outcome for those assaulted.

Cases are under-reported and routinely dropped or withdrawn by the police or the victim/survivor.  An estimated 89% of sexual assaults are not reported and guilty verdicts are handed down in only 2% of the total number of estimated incidents.

Fundamental changes are needed in men’s behaviour and in the way our current criminal justice system deals with sexual assault. At the very least the interests of victims must be at the heart of the change.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare:

• almost 2 million Australian adults had experienced at least 1 sexual assault since the age of 15 

• more than 200,000 (1.1%) Australian adults had experienced sexual assault in the 12 months before the survey—an increase from 2012 (0.7%) 

• around 639,000 Australian women experienced their most recent incident of sexual assault perpetrated by a male in the last 10 years

Between 2010 and 2018, rates of sexual assault victimisation recorded by police for Australians aged 15 and over rose by more than 30% (from 66.8 to 90.2 per 100,000) (based on ABS 2019). However, it is unclear whether this reflects an increased incidence of sexual assault, an increased propensity to report sexual assault to police or increased reporting of historical crimes. Rates for children aged 0–14 remained stable in the 5 years up to 2018 (based on ABS 2019). 

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