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The Government Has Laid Out A Five-Year Plan To Address Sexual Assault Legislation

It's a huge step forward.

The Australian government is developing a five year plan that would strengthen and bring consistency to the country’s legislation around sexual violence. 

Survivor and advocate Grace Tame shared a letter she was sent from attorney-general Mark Dreyfus who revealed all state attorney-generals had met on Friday, August 12 to discuss the plan and its key areas to improve. 

The key focusses of the Five year Work Plan, which will run between 2022 and 2027 would centre on: strengthening legal frameworks, building justice sector capability and supporting greater research and collaboration. 

Dreyfus added that the plan was the first of its kind in Australia—and it’s certainly a first for every single state to look to consolidate its stance in these key areas.

What is the Five Year Work Plan? 

The Five Year Work Plan will deep dive into specific laws around sexual assault and point out current failings, along with preventative recommendations.  

Per Dreyfus’ letter to Tame, the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) will commence a national review and comparative analysis of sexual assault and child abuse in Australia, identifying any inconsistencies in the legal framework state to state, as well as pointing out gaps in criminalised conduct and recommend best practices. 

The plan comes after Tame directly addressed the attorney-generals in November 2021, where she called for national consistency when it comes to specific wording around the legal definition of “persistent sexual abuse of a child”, the age of consent, the definition of ‘sexual intercourse’ by law and her own recommendations of legislative change. 

Not only will the AIC review each of these areas, but it will also review a number of other legal definitions that relate to sexual assault, as well as aggravating circumstances, defences and maximum and minimum penalties. 

This includes legislation around consent and stealthing, which has recently been a point of focus across several Australian states looking to broaden the definition of consent (New South Wales’ affirmative consent model was passed as law in June 2022), including stealthing as an example. 

(Credit: Getty)

The Five Year Work Plan comes during a time of transition for several state governments as laws and definition of consent continue to be a major point of focus. This is undoubtedly a direct result from the relentless campaigns from powerful female advocates like Tame and Chanel Contos. Both have spurred on national conversations around the growing sexual violence problem in Australia. 

As it stands, only 1.5 per cent of sexual assault cases end in a conviction in Australia. It’s also believed that reporting rates of sexual violence are abhorrently low. The detrimental impacts of this cannot be overstated—and both elements go hand: With such a seemingly small chance of a conviction, why would a victim put themselves through a process which is more likely to fail them than bring them any justice? 

While it’s a long road ahead, the Five Year Work Plan is a huge step forward in the government actually acknowledging the issue. Changes to definitions and working could also bring more consistency to the justice system.

“Thank you to our team, and to the Attorneys-General for listening.” Tame wrote on Twitter in response to the letter. 

“Lived experience shaping history.” 

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