Changes to Victorian laws to shift scrutiny away from survivors of sexual offences are set for consultation as the state government prepares to propose legislation next year.
The move would explicitly criminalise “stealthing” — the removal of a condom or other protection during sex without the other person’s knowledge or consent — and introduce a legal model where a person accused of a sexual offence must confirm they had received consent for sex.
The changes would aim to shift the scrutiny of cases that go to court off the survivor and onto the alleged offender.
The Global Institute for Women’s Leadership’s Brittany Higgins described the move as “an incredible step forward” shortly after it was announced on Friday.
The government says the changes respond to a Victorian Law Reform Commission report on Improving the Justice System Response to Sexual Offences and involves working towards an “affirmative consent” model in the state.
The report makes 91 recommendations stretching across Victoria Police, the Department of Justice and Community Safety, the courts, the Office of Public Prosecutions, the Crime Statistics Agency and Sexual Assault Services Victoria.
It also recommends the government establish a Commission for Sexual Safety — a new independent body that would be responsible for preventing and reducing sexual violence, and supporting survivors. It recommends granting ministerial responsibility for sexual violence.
The Victorian Law Reform Commission suggests the government gives support to help survivors take civil action against offenders, as well as significant increases in resourcing for centres against sexual assault to meet demand.
Victorian attorney-general Jaclyn Symes, responding to the report, said the government was listening to victim-survivors and the system must change.
“This is too important not to act,” Symes said. “It’s an enormous job – and we’ll work closely with those who know this issue best to get it done.”
The government is due to undertake extensive consultation with victim-survivors, law enforcement agencies, the courts and other stakeholders in developing legislation, which it will then introduce to parliament next year.
As part of an initial response, the government pledged $5.2 million for specialist sexual assault services on Friday to hire extra staff and ramp-up support.