Changes likely for sexual violence law to reduce courtroom trauma for victims

Changes are in the works to New Zealand's family and sexual violence law, in an attempt to reduce re-traumatising victims and survivors. 

Source: 1 NEWS

Passing its first reading this week with unanimous support, the Sexual Violence Legislation Bill "deals will a major issue we know is holding back a lot of survivors and victims of sexual violence", Justice Minister Andrew Little told media. 

He said many people did not come forward "because they are as frightened by being traumatised by the process as they are sometimes by the acts that have been visited on them".

For every 100 sexual violence incidents reported to the police, only 31 made it to court, 11 resulted in a conviction and six in imprisonment.

"It provides a new way for victims, complainants, survivors to give evidence rather than in a big courtroom in front of a jury and a whole bunch of people they don't know - to have their evidence recorded, for example, including cross-examination being recorded.

"It also means judges have to deal with well known myths and misunderstandings of sexual violence, and to get rid of the rape myths that often cloud the judgment of trials," Mr Little said. 

Under-Secretary for sexual violence Jan Logie said sexual violence was an issue that predominantly impacts women.

"Not exclusively but predominantly, with one in four experiencing acts of sexual violence in our lifetimes."

Ms Logie said elements of the trial process are in direct opposition for sexual violence victims and survivors. 

She called the changes "long overdue". 

Those changes were so complainants can give evidence as early as possible and without "unnecessary" repetition. 

"Societal ideas about sexual violence and about victims also purvey decision making in our courts. Ideas such as, 'She was dressed provocatively so she must have been wanting it', or, 'She wasn't beaten up so it wasn't really violence', reliance on these myths and misconceptions causes distress to complainants.

"They also can and do directly and indirectly influence the outcomes of trials. It's time to start debunking the myths."

She said the law would require the direct relevance of any details about the complainants and defendant's sexual history before the complainant is subject to questions about it. 

During the reading of the bill, National's Paula Bennett said it was "hardly surprising" why many victims did not take complaints to police or went through the court system. 

"They're probably not encouraged by older woman a lot, because sometimes we look at them and see the trauma they're going through and worry about how they're going to work their way through what can often feel like a complete re-traumatisation."

The bill is now set to go to the Select Committee stage.