Weeks following Chanel Contos’ viral petition, which revealed more than 2,000 testimonies of sexual assault from current and former Australian school students, NSW police have announced a change to the state’s sexual assault reporting process.
Contos joined forces with Stacey Maloney, Head of the NSW Sex Crimes squad, and Dr. Joy Townsend, one of Australia’s leading consent educators, to launch Operation Vest as a direct response to the petition—a new iteration of SARO, the Sexual Assault Reporting Option.
According to Contos, the purpose of the new reporting process is to “create an environment where it is normal for individuals to speak up about and report sexual assault, and to emphasise the need for structural reform in our society.”
Previously, victims of sexual assault could submit a form online to register than an assault had taken place, but it wouldn’t be classified as evidence and was not used in relation to other victims’ cases, instead, helping police identify patterns of offending.
Now, thanks to weeks of campaigning and activism, victims can submit a form online, that isn’t a formal complaint to police, but can be used when someone else makes a formal complaint as evidence of a pattern of behaviour.
The main difference being that SARO questionnaires can be used to support future victims who choose to come forward in cases where the perpetrator is a repeat offender.
“This helps us look toward a better Australia, and will cause those who think they may have been perpetrators, to be conscious of their actions going forward,” said Contos.
Victims will be able to complete the process online and can submit as much information they want and anonymously if they so choose.
Perpetrators also will not know if they are reported this way, and there will be no repercussions for them unless someone makes a formal complaint about them in the future.
“We must acknowledge the courage it takes victims of sexual violence to come forward and tell their stories,” said Detective Superintendent Maloney, via Nine News.
“Re-telling your story means reliving your trauma, and NSW Police are committed to a framework that supports a victim’s pursuit for justice but also ensures they have access to services that provide the appropriate support.
“We want you to know that if you share your story with us, we will listen to you and if you decide to pursue legal action, immediately or anytime thereafter, we will stand by your side through that process.”
Operation Vest reports will be also be used as a “call for urgent educational, cultural, and structural reforms in our society”, Contos added. “It will also be used to emphasise the need for a Sexual Violence Policy to be implemented in the NSW police force, and for funding to go into this software for it to be optimised and rolled out Australia-wide.”
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.