13 January 2023

Justice delayed is justice denied

Justice delayed is justice denied feature image

Local author and advocate Trish Wyatt has just released her book “Don’t Report Rape.” At first, I was taken aback by the title of her book. As a lawyer, it goes against advice ordinarily given to a client in such circumstances, so it did not sit comfortably with me on first impression.

However, Wyatt’s account of her experience of the judicial process traversing from when she first made a report to the police of sexual assault to the trial jury verdict, is both disturbing and eye-opening. Wyatt documents her experience over this three-year period, which she describes as re-traumatising. The obstacles and barriers she encountered are shocking.

The book carefully de-identifies people, places, and things. It does not denigrate the people involved but provides constructive feedback, from which Wyatt offers fourteen practical reform recommendations. These include updating consent laws, introducing trauma-informed practice in the judicial system, and calling for an end to victim blaming.

Regrettably, Wyatt’s experience is not unique. Her account is like those submitted by more than 250 victim-survivors to the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce.

In its Second Report, the Taskforce, chaired by the Honourable Margaret McMurdo AC (former president of the Court of Appeal), states: “For too long, society has regarded sexual violence as a taboo. But it is prevalent in our community, with one in five women and one in 20 men experiencing sexual violence. Its taboo nature is one reason only 13% of sexual assaults are reported to the police. Another is that those who do report find their experiences, from police to jury trial and verdict, traumatising, confusing, disempowering, and slow. They feel they are on trial. They want the criminal justice system to better respond to their needs.”

The Second Report includes 188 recommendations, many aimed at supporting victim-survivors through the criminal justice system instead of being further traumatised when they come forward to report and seek justice. The Queensland Government’s Response to the Second Report supports 103 recommendations in full, supports 71 recommendations in principle, and 14 are noted. The Attorney-General has announced a $225 million reform package to implement the recommendations and bring Queensland into the modern era.

From her perspective, Wyatt’s courage in telling her story provides insight into her lived experience of pursuing justice over three years and directly targets the areas where reform is needed.

While it is too late for Wyatt, we must advocate for the timely implementation of the Taskforce’s recommendations to achieve systemic change moving forward.

If you or anyone you know needs help, Phoenix House provides counselling and support services to people affected by various traumatic life events, including sexual assault. To access Phoenix House services, telephone (07) 4153 4299 between 8:30 am – 4:30 pm Monday to Friday. For support after hours, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732. You can also access the 1800RESPeCT online chat service 24 hours a day at www.1800respect.org.au