The alleged rape of former Liberal Party staffer Brittany Higgins has raised many questions about how sexual assault gets reported.
Members of the Morrison government have repeatedly stressed the appropriate response to allegations of sexual assault is to go to the police.
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Another former staffer Dhanya Mani, who alleges she was indecently assaulted while working in NSW state politics, says she received a similar response from senior Liberal figures.
In both cases, the complainants did not want the police involved at the time of their first disclosure. Higgins initially spoke to police in 2019, but then withdrew her complaint, because she felt it would put her career in jeopardy. Mani says she did not want to go through the police process because it would be “traumatising […] it doesn’t empower us”.
Sadly, these women’s experiences are all too common. Many survivors feel they will not be believed or taken seriously by police. For some, the experience of giving a statement is re-traumatising and stressful.
Survivors also express concern about how their workplaces and colleagues may respond, especially if the alleged offender is well-known.
We are currently researching anonymous and confidential options for reporting sexual assault in Australia.
It is important people know that making a formal complaint to police is not the only avenue. While it is clear the criminal justice current system needs substantial improvement, we also need to identify alternative ways survivors can be heard.
Alternatives to a formal report.
There are many alternative and informal ways that sexual assault survivors can — and do — disclose their experiences.
At the more informal end, they can tell a trusted friend, family member, colleague, GP, counsellor or psychologist. This enables survivors to commence the recovery process in a safe environment, where they can process their experiences, develop coping skills, tell their story and consider their different options.