Police Are Terrible At Dealing With Sexual Assault

Surprise, surprise.

The ABC has investigated the outcome of just about every sexual assault reported to police in Australia from 2008 to 2017. In news that should shock absolutely nobody who’s been paying attention, the figures are astoundingly dark.

The investigation examined 140,000 reports and broke them into categories: unfounded (or in other words, not believed by police), withdrawn, unsolved, legal action taken, and no legal action taken. Pinning down the exact statistics are difficult, as the Northern Territory Police refused to give the ABC any information, but using figures from the rest of Australia can give you a pretty good idea of what the situation looks like nationally.

How Bad Is It?

25% of sexual assault investigations were cleared without any arrests or legal action made. More than half of those- a quarter overall- were withdrawn by the person who filed the complaint. The true figure is higher because NSW doesn’t record data on why investigations don’t result in legal action (which in itself is bad). Less than 30% of reports lead to any legal activity, and the remaining 35% remain unsolved.

ABC has also provided a really detailed map, allowing you to view the sexual assault report outcomes for your postcode and see how you fare compared to others. You know, if that’s something you want to be thinking about when you’re taking the last bus home.

The report is super dense and has a lot of information to digest, and it is important to note that the piece contains stories from sexual assault survivors.

What Does This Mean?

It’s already unspeakably difficult for survivors to go to the police. You need to divulge incredibly personal information and recount something traumatic over and over again, and to complete strangers. This data shows that the police have routinely, over years, stacked the odds against survivors trying to find justice.

Experts are concerned about the internal culture of police. A five year review into sexual harassment in the Victorian Police found that rape culture was widespread, and that those who spoke up were bullied and shamed. Mainstream beliefs about rape also influence how seriously police deal with reports, something that many survivor stories confirm in the ABC piece.

There is also a huge issue with NSW not keeping records for why a sexual assault investigation doesn’t lead to any formal action. It’s the only state or territory in Australia not to do so. If police don’t keep track of why reports were withdrawn, there’s no way to improve the number of prosecutions.

I know multiple people who have filed sexual assault reports, and the few that have resulted in legal action did not result in prosecution. When I’ve have accompanied people to the hospital after their assaults, I always silently hoped that they wouldn’t want to file a police report because I knew how much extra trauma they would be dealing with. Survivors do not trust the legal system, and these statistics back that belief up.

This is just the latest in the series of serious and really concerning shit Australian cops are doing, with the previous instalments being defending strip-searching kids and giving climate activists ridiculous bail conditions, and I don’t know about you, but I’m defs not looking forward to what bullshit 2020 will bring us.

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