Wednesday 15 September 2010

government response to sexual violence report

it's been a busy news day, what with david garrett's meltdown & the teachers strike. and still plenty of news coming out of canterbury. the perfect time, it seems, for the government to release it's response to the report of the task force for action on sexual violence. a response headed by 3 ministers of the crown: the minister of justice, the minister of social development and the associaste minister of social development.

you would think that this would be worthy of some attention on the 6 o'clock news, but if there was any, i definitely missed it. the press release is dated 1.19pm so it's not like there wasn't time. it's seriously looking like this something the government wanted to slip under the radar.

so here are some of the action points included in the press release:

• The Ministry of Justice re-prioritising $1 million of funding over two years for sexual violence prevention education programmes.
• Responding to immediate funding pressures by providing funds to sexual violence service providers through the Community Response Fund ($864,000 provided to date).
• A cross-agency stocktake of government expenditure on sexual violence services.
• Exploring alternative approaches to pre trial and trial processes for victims of sexual violence, including looking at inquisitorial justice models.
• Improving the level of support available to victims of sexual violence as they go through the criminal justice system. This includes funding for 18 specialist court victim advisers, a discretionary grant to assist with expenses incurred as a result of sexual violence, new information resources, and increased financial assistance for travel, accommodation, and childcare.
• Funding the Survivor Advocate role for the next three years.
• Police introducing new Adult Sexual Assault Guidelines.
• Funding for TOAH-NNEST to enable it to continue its role as co-ordinator for the sexual violence sector.
• A commitment to continued engagement with the sexual violence sector.

i haven't yet seen any responses from the member organisations of the TOAH-NNEST network to this, but would be very interested to hear from them. just off the cuff, the funding figures below are extremely low. given that ACC funding to the auckland sexual abuse help people was cut by around $300,000, the $864,000 to date is really not much at all. especially given that rape crisis centres around the country have been seriously underfunded and struggling for a long time now.

the network's report has 71 recommendations, but the government has chosen not to respond to these specific recommendations directly. instead, they've focused on "six key priority areas". it's good to see funding for court victim advisors & a survivor advocate. however, when it comes to the police, i seriously don't think a new set of guidelines is anywhere near sufficient. not only does there need to be in-depth training, but also a comprehensive plan to deal with the current police culture.

the "Exploring alternative approaches to pre trial and trial processes" is to be done by the law commission, who will report back by december 2011. the wheels of justice do indeed turn slowly. the law commission will also be looking at "evidential procedures in sex crime trials" but won't even start doing that until december 2011.

so we have some progress, and generally i think hon simon power is doing well in this area. however, the difficult issues around consent, evidence & trial process have been conveniently pushed off til after the next election. at some point, someone is going to have make the difficult decisions, and the sooner the better.


AnneE said...

Thanks so much for spotting this - well buried, as you say! The talk is good, but what will the walk look like...

Anonymous said...

I'm particularly interested in the exploration of "inquisitorial justice models" for sexual assault crimes - I wonder how well they work (have they been used in other countries)?

Personally, I think I would prefer that type of trial - I think I'd trust an "objective" judge's decision more than a jury's decision in a sexual assault case with all the victim blaming and rape myths in our society. There is also so much aggressiveness in a jury trial. It's 'nicer' to not have two lawyers going at each other's throats (and tearing down witness testimonies), and just have a decision made on more neutrally-presented facts. Is that possible?


DPF:TLDR said...

Amelia, the Inquisitive Model often gets raised as an alternative on this very journal, but usually by people who don't really understand it.

The Inquisitive Model is used almost exclusively outside the English speaking world. There appears to be no correlation between its application and rape conviction rates.

I expect this is because the difference between Inquisitorial and Adversarial systems is largely theoretical than practical. In both systems both sides are represented by advocates and present their sides to the court, which then reaches a conclusion.

The only practical difference is that in the Inquisitorial system a question of fact that is agreed on by both sides isn't open to further investigation by the Court. Given the unlikelihood of a rape victim and her rapist of being able to agree on any germane facts in a situation where the rapist hasn't pled guilty, this doesn't seem likely to change the situation.

You appear to be confusing jury trials with adversarial systems, for the record. Both inquisitorial and adversarial systems use juries (sometimes). The presence of a jury doesn't affect the way in which arguments are made, it simply changes the mechanism by which the arguments are assessed.

I don't think neutral trials are a good idea, actually. Nobody should be neutral when confronted with rape. What is important is that the aggression and confrontation is directed toward the right target, that is, the rapist.