Sexual assault experts call for reforms to improve the experience of victims in the justice system

Release date: 14 August 2023

New research released today at the BOCSAR Applied Research in Crime and Justice Conference in Sydney highlights the negative experiences that many victim/survivors have in the criminal justice system after reporting sexual violence.   

The study by KPMG and RMIT’s Centre for Innovative Justice is based on 34 in-depth interviews with adult sexual offence complainants who reported the incident to police. The research gives a unique chance to hear, in complainants’ own words, how they experience the criminal justice process.

“This research gave voice to a diversity of victim-survivors, coming from a breadth of identities and circumstances,” said Elena Campbell from RMIT.  “All expressed a strong and consistent request, however – to be treated with care and respect and to be remembered by a system that too often makes them feel as if they have been forgotten.”   

Many complainants indicated their first justice contact when reporting the offence to police was a negative one, involving feelings of judgement, shame or dismissal.  Complainants commonly felt the police evidence gathering lacked thoroughness and reported feeling uninformed about the progress of the investigation.  While only a minority of matters went to trial, complainants in these matters overwhelmingly described that experience as traumatic and damaging.  

The researchers also heard from some sexual offence complainants with positive experiences. These were characterised by feeling believed by police and other professionals, having access to specialist detectives, being kept in communication about the progress of their matter and having access to ongoing support through the process (either through a professional source or personal networks).

The study also involved consultations with a broad range of justice system stakeholders, all reflecting similar calls for wholesale system change. The study recommends various reforms to make the criminal justice system more complainant-centric and trauma-informed when dealing with sexual offence matters to improve the complainant experience.

“It’s been vital for this research to have been commissioned – an overdue opportunity to put the voices of victim-survivors in NSW at the centre of reform,” explained Ms Campbell. “Victim-survivors told us that the primary reason that they reported to police was to protect others – and this commitment to preventing future harm shone through in their participation in this research, as did their resilience and hopes for meaningful change.”

This research was commissioned and published by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) in response to a recommendation in the 2020 NSW Law Reform Commission report ‘Consent in relation to sexual offences’.

About the conference

This research will be presented at the 8th Applied Research in Crime and Justice conference in Sydney which is jointly hosted on 14 & 15 August by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) and the Griffith Criminology Institute.  The conference brings researchers and justice policy makers together to share evidence and analysis to help tackle significant issues in the criminal justice system.  Conference themes include improving community safety, reducing Aboriginal over-representation and how to reduce entry into crime and reoffending.

A key feature of today’s program is an expert panel which will discuss ways to improve the experience of sexual offence complainants in the criminal justice system.


Contact for new research report: Elena Campbell – RMIT’s Centre for Innovative Justice

Phone: 0448 038 177

Email: [email protected]

Contact for BOCSAR conference: Jackie Fitzgerald – Executive Director, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics & Research

Phone: +61 423 139 687

Email: [email protected]

Copies of the report:

/Public Release. View in full here.