Minister Rishworth interview on ABC NewsRadio with Glen Bartholomew


Topics: National roundtable on justice responses to sexual violence, Inquiry into sexual violence, Digital inclusion for migrant and refugee women 

GLEN BARTHOLOMEW, HOST: A National Roundtable has been held in Sydney today hearing from those who've experienced sexual violence and their advocates on just how to strengthen the justice responses to them. Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth was there and she joins us now. Minister, good afternoon.


GLEN BARTHOLOMEW: What are these [Personal Safety Survey] figures released by the Bureau today telling you?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: These figures are deeply concerning and really suggest that sexual violence is pretty pervasive, with 22 per cent of women having experienced sexual violence and 31 per cent having experienced physical violence. So we know that the rates in Australia are just unacceptable and we need a strong response across this country for both the prevention, but also better responding to reports of sexual violence.

GLEN BARTHOLOMEW: I'm going to look at the response element in a moment, but first, these stats around sexual violence show, as you heard, single mothers, female renters, those under financial pressure more likely to be affected. What does that say about how effective support systems might be for such people who are in a vulnerable position?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: What these statistics show is that those particularly vulnerable women are more likely to experience gender based violence – because it is gender based violence. So, I think these statistics show that those people are particularly vulnerable. And when we look at how we enact prevention and intervention, we need to make sure that we're tailoring our responses to meet the needs of some of these women most likely at risk.

GLEN BARTHOLOMEW: The statistics are pretty high, but justice, it seems, for such victims, is pretty low. Only one in ten reported cases of sexual assault results in a conviction. What has the Roundtable in Sydney today heard about why it's so hard for victims to prove an assault?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: What the Australian government has committed to is to look at justice responses and the Australian Law Reform Commission is going to be conducting an inquiry into this. But we need to make sure that the terms of reference are appropriate. And one of the strong messages coming out of the roundtable, but also the wider community, is we need to not just make sure that the laws are strengthened and harmonised across Australia, but we also need to make sure that the systems around them actually support people when they report. So, things like making sure that health professionals are educated, that indeed the police respond appropriately, making sure that these systems that sit around the law are strengthened. And that's a really important message coming out about how we can make the process of reporting sexual violence improved. But I think the other area that really strikes me is a lot of people are reporting that they don't report because of shame and stigmatisation. And that really goes to community attitudes that we need to make sure that the shame and stigmatisation doesn't sit with the victim survivor and that they are not inappropriately stigmatised or targeted as being the victim of sexual abuse.

GLEN BARTHOLOMEW: As you say, many reluctant to report at all because the experience results in just them getting re-traumatised all over again. So, did you hear anything different today from what people have been saying for some time about how this justice system might fail those seeking support through it?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I think there was a number of different perspectives that will be provided to the Attorney-General as he develops the terms of reference, but I think really making sure that there is good education, good awareness that the system, as you said, don't re-traumatise people when they go through it. There's a lot of things that we need to work towards, but it needs to be all of governments working together. And that's why, when it comes to the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children, sexual violence has been elevated and all states and territories have committed to working together around these really difficult issues, as you say.

GLEN BARTHOLOMEW: The Australian Law Reform Commission is launching an inquiry into the justice system's responses later this year. Will today's discussion help inform or shape?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: That review at today's discussion will be critical in helping determine the terms of reference in what the Law Commission will look at in terms of these justice responses. But importantly, we've also set up an expert panel, people with lived experience, to work alongside the Law Reform Commission because one of the real messages that keeps coming through is we do need to listen to the voices of victim survivors in this space. It is so important that their lived experience is taken into account. And therefore the roundtable today, but also the expert panel that will work alongside and inform the Law Commission is so, so important and quickly.

GLEN BARTHOLOMEW: One thing that helps women feel safe is a connection to a broader community. You're in Sydney today to try and create one of those connections. What's happening?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Today we've been very privileged to meet some of the wonderful participants, but also trainers as part of the Digital Sisters program. This is about supporting particularly migrant and humanitarian refugees who have come to Australia and to ensure they're not isolated, actually work with them to give them digital skills. Digital skills are so important to participate in community, to access government services, and sometimes there's a missing piece of skills and knowledge when people come to this country as new arrivals. So, this is particularly important for women and particularly important for new arrivals to get those skills in a culturally safe and supportive way. So, it's so wonderful to meet the community that are working on this and, as you said, really important to feel that there's people you can talk to, people you can turn to and learn new skills at the same time.

GLEN BARTHOLOMEW: Minister, thanks for joining us.


GLEN BARTHOLOMEW: The Federal Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth, speaking from Sydney. And if you or anyone you know is impact by such family, domestic or sexual violence, you can call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.