Recommendations made by Dr Kirsty Duncanson and Dr Emma Henderson to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee's Senate inquiry into sexual consent laws in Australia have had a significant impact on the final report.
“One in five women and one in twenty men have experienced sexual assault as an adult, yet there is a 1.7 per cent conviction rate for sexual offences across Australia,” explains Dr Duncanson.
“The Senate inquiry identified that the high prevalence of sexual violence and the related lack of successful prosecution can be largely attributed to how consent is interpreted at law and in the community, and the role of rape myths in those interpretations.”
Dr Duncanson and Dr Henderson made key recommendations to the Committee based on their research with barristers about their understanding and experiences of rape myths, their training, and how they prepare for adult rape trials.
They also made recommendations informed by research with criminal law teachers about the challenges of delivering content relating to sexual offence legislation and information about sexual violence.
“In our submission, we recommended that there be mandated improved trauma-informed law school curriculum and barrister training; that juries of sexual offence trials should receive an information pack at the start of each trial with established knowledge about sexual violence; and that jury directions about sexual violence to counter rape myths should be utilised before and throughout sexual offence trials,” says Dr Duncanson.
“We also recommended that the committee reject the Australian Law Council and Liberty Victoria’s concerns that affirmative consent law reform would disproportionately affect young people. We argued that the Law Council and Liberty Victoria’s opposition to such changes were based on rape myths about the complexity of navigating intimacy rather than the evidence comprehensively demonstrating that sexual offending and sexual violence is an exploitation of power and that false allegations of rape are lower than any other criminal offence.”
Dr Kirsty Duncanson is a Senior Lecturer in Crime, Justice and Legal Studies at the La Trobe School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Dr Emma Henderson is a Senior Lecturer in Law at the La Trobe Law School.