Sexual abuse is a crime. Unfortunately, it is still the case that the vast majority of those committing sexual offences are never convicted in court, even if they are actually charged. However, there have been big steps forward in the way our legal systems deal with crimes of sexual abuse, and you have every right to pursue prosecution through the legal system.
Prosecuting those who commit sexual offences
It is very common for people who have suffered sexual abuse to delay reporting it to the police.
Thankfully, the law in most Australian States recognizes this, and child sexual abuse that happened in the past can still be reported to police and investigated even if it was many years ago. It’s entirely your choice about whether to report sexual abuse to the police or not. The first step can be talking to a friend or counsellor who will not pressure you one way or another, but help you to think through in a realistic way the reasons for reporting or not reporting.
There are now specialist police who are trained to understand and be alert to how well you are coping with the process. In order to do their job, the police will ask you about details of your experience. Some of these could be the very details you have been trying your best not to think about for years.
Generally, giving a statement to police about sexual abuse is an exhausting and painful process. It is common to feel quite depressed or distressed afterwards. It’s important to have realistic expectations about both the process and the eventual outcome, and to have a good support team in place.
In some states, there is a ‘Code of Conduct’ that police must adhere to when handling sexual assault investigations. This generally includes that you are kept informed about the progress of investigations in a timely manner, and offered referral to appropriate support.
The laws about sexual assault are different from State to State and Country to Country, so it is important to explore the options in your local area.
In some cases, a court can order that compensation be paid as part of sentencing. Where the accused person is found not guilty or not prosecuted, some Australian States have systems in place to provide compensation to victims of serious crimes, including sexual abuse (check out Victim Assist Queensland and the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal in Victoria). It may also be possible to pursue ‘civil’ action to claim compensation from those offending , especially if the abuse happened in an institution such as a school, church or children’s home.
While the amount of compensation will rarely feel like it comes anywhere close to adequate, it can help with the cost of things like counselling, safety measures, or other expenses related to recovering from sexual abuse.
Note that the laws governing compensation varies from state to state and these laws are subject to change,
In any legal matter, it is worth getting quality legal advice. In cases where lawyers offer to waive up-front fees, it is useful to keep an eye on legal costs being incurred and how much will be deducted from any compensation obtained.