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NSW Police and Chanel Contos have launched Operation Vest. Here's everything you need to know.

This post deals with sexual assault and might be triggering for some readers. 

NSW Police and consent activist Chanel Contos have teamed up to launch Operation Vest, a new avenue for the thousands of women who have shared their sexual assault stories to make an informal report to the police.

Last Tuesday, Detective Superintendent Stacey Maloney, the head of the New South Wales Sex Crimes Unit, and Chanel announced the operation, where sexual assault victims can report their experiences on a digital form called SARO, without launching a criminal investigation.

"SARO gives victims options outside of a court proceeding, empowering them to have their account recorded and potentially supporting other victims," Chanel told Mamamia.

Watch: Sexual assault survivor and advocate Grace Tame on the importance of survivors' stories. Post continues after video.


Video via ABC

While Operation Vest doesn't launch a criminal investigation into the reported assault, it does create a database for police to keep track of repeat offenders. It also creates a way for the victim's stories to be heard, outside of a courtroom.

"Operation Vest aims to normalise reporting sexual assault and provide mass police intelligence at once to get a comprehensive database going of repeat offenders in NSW," Chanel explained. 

"It is meant to empower the victims and provide a sense of closure." 

Operation Vest comes after 5000 sexual assault victims came forward and shared their anonymous testimonies with Chanel. The harrowing stories, submitted by former students from girls' schools including Sydney's Kambala, Ascham and SCEGGS, detailed alleged sexual assault and rape by students at all-boys schools. 

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The stories frequently recounted instances of unwanted sex with older boys, being forced to perform oral sex and rape while intoxicated or completely unconscious.

Read more: A former Sydney schoolgirl started a petition for sexual consent. 1200 students told their harrowing stories.

Chanel believes Operation Vest will make offenders consider their previous actions and rethink their behaviour going forward.

"I don't believe that the 5000 people who did these horrible things when they were younger need to be criminally punished, but at the same time they need to be held accountable for their actions," she said.

"This will make anyone who feels there might be an Operation Vest report about them, be very cautious of their actions moving forward. This is important for the 'Entitled Opportunist' type of rapist I talk about in my stories. (See my rape culture slide for more)."

After Chanel received an overwhelming amount of sexual assault testimonies, there were four key points she wanted Operation Vest to address.

"Anonymous options for victims. No criminal repercussions. Victim empowerment and normalising reporting," she said.

Listen to The Quicky, Mamamia's daily news podcast. In this episode, we discuss Chanel's viral petition. Post continues after audio.

So how exactly will Operation Vest work?

  • Operation Vest will use the Sexual Assault Reporting Option (SARO) form, allowing sexual assault victims to fill it out if they don't want to make an official report but still want to have their voices heard.
  • You can choose how much information you want to disclose about the incident and whether you want to be identified or kept anonymous.
  • If your perpetrator is a repeat offender and you've named them in your SARO and provided your contact details, you might be contacted to support another victim's case. 
  • As the NSW Police have mandatory reporting responsibilities for risk of harm to children, SAROs that contain information that relates to a person currently under 16 will be notified to Community Services through the Child Protection Hotline. 
  • If you were under 16 when the sexual offence occurred, and you're now over 16, your SARO will not be notified to Community Services.
  • You can also contact your local Police Station and make a formal complaint. If you are going to do this, Detective Superintendent Stacey Maloney recommends you call ahead and book an appointment with a specialist detective for a more comfortable experience.

What exactly will the SARO form ask?

Questions in the SARO form include:

  • When did this assault happen?
  • How did you first meet the offender/s?
  • Detailed questions regarding the offender's physical features. 
  • Did anyone see what happened to you? 

While Operation Vest is currently New South Wales-based only, Chanel hopes it will spread nationwide.

"Operation Vest reports will be used as a call for urgent educational, cultural, and structural reforms in our society. It will also be used to emphasise the need for a Sexual Violence Policy to be implemented in the NSW police force, and for funding to go into this software for it to be optimised and rolled out Australia-wide," she said.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

Feature image: Instagram/@chanelc