Sexual Assault Services Victoria (SASVic), the peak body for Victoria’s specialist sexual assault sector, welcomes the introduction of Justice Navigators as part…

Sexual Assault Services Victoria

SASVic and its members welcome what could be a life-changing program for survivors of sexual violence after months of concerted advocacy. We are delighted by the Victorian Government’s commitment to introduce Justice Navigators in Victoria as part of its Changing Laws and Culture to Save Women’s Lives funding package.

What is a Justice Navigator?

Kathleen Maltzahn, SASVic CEO, says, “For survivors who engage with the justice system, the experience can be confronting and disempowering, making recovery more difficult. It’s clear that the burden should not be on survivors to navigate our complex and punitive system.”

Justice Navigators support survivors to understand and exercise their rights and help them navigate the complex range of support, compensation, recovery and justice options available to them, including by attending court and hearings. They will provide ongoing support to survivors that isn’t tied to any one legal pathway or outcome.

This service would be free to survivors.

Do they work?

Yes. They reduce the trauma and confusion that is synonymous with the legal and court system.

Kathleen Maltzahn says, “Survivors in England and Wales have had access to this support, called Independent Sexual Violence Advocates (ISVAs), since 2007 and they have been successful. Research shows that ISVAs halved the number of survivors who dropped out of legal procedures. They could be life-changing in Victoria.”

In the UK, ISVAs provide holistic wraparound support for survivors of sexual violence and vital assistance with navigating the systems and processes survivors come into contact with, whether that be within the justice system or not.

What would make Justice Navigators successful in Victoria?

Justice Navigators are best deployed within sexual assault services.

UK expert Ellie Ball, ISVA Manager, Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre, says, “Being based in specialist sexual violence organisations such as Rape Crisis, ISVAs are able to work in a trauma informed way, drawing on a wealth of knowledge and advice, which builds trust, and are able to link survivors in with other services to assist their recovery, such as counselling and therapeutic support.

“Unfortunately, we know that when survivors come forward to report their experiences, their rights are too often overlooked and neglected by criminal justice agencies. ISVAs demand procedural fairness and accountability on behalf of their clients, and play an important role in ensuring survivors feel able to engage with justice systems that can be both hostile and re-traumatising.”

SASVic has advised the government that for Justice Navigators to be successful, they should be embedded in each of the 18 specialist sexual assault services in Victoria, with adequate time for development.

In its 2024-25 budget bid, SASVic also advised that to introduce Justice Navigators, it would cost $1.5 million for development, $5.85 million for the first year of implementation and ongoing funding to ensure that they are available to survivors through all support, recovery, justice and compensation pathways. For example, sexual violence investigations and court cases can be lengthy; the 2021 VLRC Report tells us that court cases can often take up to 2 years to complete but Justice Navigator support should be available from the moment they make the courageous decision to share what happened to them with a specialist sexual assault service.

This is a modest amount for a significant gain. Secure and ongoing funding is vital.

What else do we need to address sexual violence?

We’re also pleased to see that there will be more funding for therapeutic support to children and young people as part of the new package. Early intervention and support is crucial and no child survivor of sexual violence should have to wait for specialist therapeutic support. It’s essential that some of this funding goes to specialist sexual assault services working with children and young people.

Our members see nearly 20,000 victim survivors annually, yet this is the tip of the iceberg. While the announcements this week are encouraging, SASVic will continue to push for secure funding for our 18 member services and the long-awaited sexual violence strategy to deliver the transformative system reform needed to end sexual violence. The lack of new funding for frontline sexual and family violence workers was a striking omission in the package.

About us:

Sexual Assault Services Victoria (SASVic) is the peak body for Victoria’s 18 specialist sexual assault and harmful sexual behaviour services in Victoria. Our members provide support to 20,000 survivors and young people a year. Together, we work to promote rights, recovery and respect for victim survivors and other people impacted by sexual violence and harm. We seek to achieve this by working collectively to change the attitudes, systems and structures that enable sexual violence to occur.

/Public Release.