Sexual assault victim-survivors will finally have their voices heard, a central Victorian agency says, after the Victorian government committed to reforming reporting laws.
Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy confirmed the government would fast-track reforms to streamline processes for victim-survivors who wanted to speak out.
The changes would mean the majority of victims would no longer require a court order to tell their stories if they gave informed consent to being identified.
Centre Against Sexual Assault Central Victoria (CASACV) chief executive Kate Wright said the current laws were inappropriate and took the choice away from victim-survivors.
"We know that it is so hard for people who have experienced sexual violence to disclose the abuse, let alone pursue justice proceedings," she said.
"Keeping victim-survivors silenced via the Act reinforces the idea that sexual assault should be minimised and kept a secret.
"Victim-survivors report to CASACV that they find the justice proceedings, in particular trials, re-traumatising.
"They should be allowed the same freedoms as anyone else who has pursued justice. The current Act is a reduction in their rights."
Mrs Wright welcomed the government's decision to reform the Judicial Proceedings Reports Act.
"CASACV, as part of our statewide peak body, communicated with Minister Hennessy that the law needed to change," she said.
"We're really pleased the government has listened to not only us, but also the many victim-survivors who were outraged by the law.
"In both cases, victims should have the right to choose how to exercise their privacy rights without penalty or cost."
Data from the Victorian Crime Statistics Database showed there were 277 reported sexual offences in Greater Bendigo in 2019 - an increase from 231 the previous year.
Australia's National Research Organisation for Women's Safety reported one in five women will experience sexual violence in their lives.
Mrs Wright said there needed to be a broader discussion around sexual assault.
"CASACV wants to see sexual assault and violence brought out of the shadows and addressed across all strategies, plans, and approaches," she said.
"By talking about sexual assault, we are shining a light so more people will disclose and pursue justice for the violence they have experienced."
Ms Hennessy said the Department of Justice and Community Safety would convene a series of roundtables with victims in September to discuss the proposed reforms and seek victim input.
"These laws provide an important protection to maintain the privacy of sexual offence victims and help ensure they are not exposed to additional distress," Ms Hennessy said.
"They were never intended to inhibit willing victim-survivors being able to speak out and share their stories.
"The voices of victim-survivors are a powerful and important part of the justice system. Their expertise will be invaluable as we make these urgent changes."
- For support with recent or past experiences of sexual assault or abuse, contact 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or the Sexual Assault Crisis Line on 1800 806 292.
- For help from CASA CV, contact 5441 0430 or visit casacv.org.au.
- In an emergency, call 000.