By Kyra Gillespie (@kyra_gillespie)
VICTORIAN Secondary students have joined the push for rape trial reform, taking it to the 2018 YMCA Youth Parliament this week to call for a review of the court system.
The Bill titled ‘Rape Trial Reform’, was introduced at the YMCA Youth Parliament and calls for further measures be introduced to protect the emotional well-being of rape victims during court proceedings.
Designed by six teenagers from Westbourne Grammar School , the Bill aims to increase the rate of rape trials that result in a conviction.
Debated by young ‘politicians’ on the burgundy benches of State Parliament’s elegant
Legislative Council, the bill was passed in a landslide 41 to 14 victory on Thursday 5 July.
“A few weeks ago, the tragic rape and murder of Eurydice Dixon shocked the state to its
core. And not four days later another member of our community was sexually assaulted only two kilometres away from that same place,” Bill sponsor Tasha Gactuan said in her opening address to the Legislative Council.
“And yet in a shocking act of negligence by the Victorian justice system, rape conviction
rates stand at only three per cent in Victoria,” Ms. Gactuan said.
“This terrifying number tells us that the justice system as it stands today is not enough. Our current approaches simply cannot to be said to be working, but with this bill we can make concrete changes to rape trials within our legal system,” Ms Gactuan continued.
The goal of the young Westbourne Grammar team, consisting of Tasha Gacutan,
Kane Arnold, Giselle Puno, Eleni Moritz, Shams Albrefkany, and Gianluca Vavala, is to
amend laws mired in misogyny.
“While there have been a number of reforms in the past, legal changes have been routinely subverted by a culture that tends to discredit and disbelieve women and children who have endured sexual abuse,” team member Giselle Puno said.
“Do we really want to live in a society where suffering in silence is seen as a safer and more desirable option than pursuing justice?”
Other proposed reforms in the bill include state-funded counselling services for victims of rape, overhauling unreasonable cross-examination tactics and imposing harsher sentences for rape convictions.
A clause of the bill that seeks to have the trial jury made aware of prior convictions of the accused was the biggest source of contention during debate but didn’t block the bills
The Rape Trial Reform Bill is one of several passed at Youth Parliament that have now been passed on to Minister for Youth Affairs, Jenny Mikakos.
Reported crime statistics highlighting the disparity between the number of sexual assaults occurring in Victoria and how many of those result in conviction instigated the Bill’s introduction to Youth Parliament.
Crime Statistics Agency data reveals of the 7788 sexual assault victim reports filed in the 12 months to March 31 this year, 79.9 per cent of those were by women.
Another Westbourne Grammar School team member, Eleni Moritz said she hoped when State Ministers look at the Bill they realise it’s something we need to fix.
“We’ve just proved that this is something that young people care about,” she said.
“We are the upcoming generation and we don’t want to live in a society that’s like this – we want to improve it.”