Alternatives to Reporting
“Indignity is painful but silence is a prison.”
– Lucia Osborne-Crowley (survivor advocate and journalist)
Some states offer alternatives to formal reporting. This will not initiate a criminal investigation. The primary purpose of a reporting alternative is to make a record of what occurred to allow police to gather data on sexual offences.
In NSW, the Sexual Assault Reporting Option (SARO) is an online form. It can also be printed and delivered in person to your local station. The SARO can be submitted anonymously, or with your personal details on the condition that police will not contact you at all, or that they will contact you only if there is another victim of the same offender, or with your personal details and permission for the police to contact you. Regardless of whether you submit the SARO anonymously or not, your report is not equivalent to a statement – it will not initiate a criminal investigation and cannot assist the criminal investigation of any other victim who may have been assaulted by the perpetrator.The questionnaire has three sections – information about the person making the disclosure, information about the perpetrator, and information about what happened. We recommend completing the form with a support person. The NSW SARO can be accessed here.
In Queensland, the Assault Reporting Option (ARO) can be accessed here. It is similar to the NSW SARO, however, it also asks you to describe yourself (or the victim, if you are not the victim) in more detail. This has the benefit of assisting police to find patterns in the behaviours and targets of repeat offenders.
The ACT allows you to report sexual assaults that occurred more than 6 months ago online here.
Remember, while not all states have an alternative reporting option, all police stations in all states allow you to give a record of your assault without completing a statement.
Informal Reporting Options as First Response Tools
Currently, informal reporting options are not developed in line with best practice forensic interviewing techniques, or with the needs of the victim in mind. As such, there is an opportunity for informal reporting options to both collect better evidence and meet some of the “justice interests” of the victim (Fileborn et al., 2020). “While anonymous reporting is necessarily de-personalised, it does not have to be de-humanised” – Georgina Heydon and Anastasia Powell.
Georgina Heydon of RMIT University has lead a collaborative research effort into the potential of informal reporting as a first response tool. The team has found that a written response interview protocol (WRIP) could offer a way for victims to maintain control of their story while protecting the integrity of evidence. By prioritising the witness’s free narrative with sensitive and open-ended questions, a WRIP not only validates the victim by allowing them to share their story in their own words, but also serves to alleviate the contamination of memory which can occur when trying to fit one’s story into tickboxes, or into answers to the confronting, embarrassing and disjointed questions that characterise an initial in person report. A WRIP could also assist the operational delays that befall formal reporting, by protecting against the deterioration of memory as time passes and giving the victim a sense that things are progressing while they wait.
All reporting options should ideally provide flexibility in how victims record their experience, such as written or verbal recordings, and be made available in a range of languages other than English. And, all reporting options should seek to connect victims with support services, including culturally-sensitive services where appropriate.
Counteracting Gendered Violence Through Data Collection
She’s A Crowd is a female-led startup offering victims the ability to anonymously submit their lived experiences. Then, it partners with change-makers and companies to make cities safer for women and gender-diverse people. Each submission is geotagged, time-stamped and aggregated to provide information to decision-makers about key location hotspots and incident details. Anyone can share their story from any time or place.
Restorative justice is about bringing together the people impacted by a crime in ways that are meaningful to the victim. It hinges on three mechanisms for addressing harm: the ability to speak to an experience (this is about narrative and voice); to bear witness to this narrative (this is about validation and accountability); and to reflect on the future (which is a pragmatic plan addressing the immediate and longer-term impacts). Each of these core elements offers a counterpoint to the loss of power inherent in sexual assault (Deakin-Greenwood & Bolitho, 2019), and indeed in the criminal justice system.
Restorative practices fit closely with traditional peace-making in response to harm in many cultures. In cases of sexual violence, while there is good reason to be cautious about how it is practiced, restorative justice can improve the access to and experience of justice for victims within carefully delineated parameters and adherence to best practice (Bolitho & Freeman, 2016). Restorative justice is entirely survivor-oriented, centred on the needs of and guided by the person harmed.
Transforming Justice Australia is a national restorative justice practice, who’s specialist team is committed to creating choices for survivors to address the harm done to them. This might be a facilitated meeting between the people involved in a sexual assault, the exchanging of questions and information, or referrals to support. It might occur alongside or after other justice processes, or on its own. All persons are invited into the process by the survivor, and all participation is voluntary. Importantly, assessing the eligibility or suitability of the persons who might be involved is a lengthy and ongoing process, with respect to whether they pose a risk to the survivor, and whether they require specialised expertise to manage (e.g. with regards to perpetrator tactics). The team has deep experience working with people who have experienced complex trauma, as well as families, First Nations communities, young people, adults, LGBTIQ community and culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Their approach recognises the impact on family, friends and partners and also validates the important role these people can play in keeping those harmed and responsible, safe and supported.
If this sounds like something you or someone you know could benefit from, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out their referrals form.