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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Dip in sexual assault stats prompts ACT Policing to encourage reports

ACT Policing Deputy Chief Police Officer Michael Chew encouraged victims of crime in the ACT to come forward today, 7 April, following a drop in the number of sexual assaults, assaults and other crimes reported in the first quarter of 2021.

“There is anecdotal evidence from our service partners that there have been increases in requests for help and information relating to assaults and sexual assaults in recent weeks,” he said.

“These have not yet translated to increases in reports to police.”

Comparing the first quarter of 2020 to the same period in 2021, reports of sexual assault dropped from 122 to 106 (-13%), assaults declined from 747 to 663 (-11%) and ‘other offences against a person’ were down from 82 to 65 (-24%).

Canberra’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service (DVCS) reported an increase in demand of 16% from January/February 2020 to January/February 2021, with first quarter statistics not yet available.

ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner Heidi Yates says justice takes many forms. Image: Kerrie Brewer.

A spokesperson told Canberra Weekly that DVCS clients reported contributing factors since COVID-19 included increased drug and alcohol use, limited capacity to reach out to friends and family interstate, increased mental health impacts, homelessness, and financial and employment changes.

“DVCS recognises that additional stressors are not the causes of domestic and family violence, they are contributing factors,” a spokesperson said.

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre did not have capacity to respond to an enquiry made by Canberra Weekly in time for publication.

Since January 2014, there have been 41 reports of sexual assault recorded by ACT Policing on average per month.

Last quarter’s crime statistics show the lowest number of sexual assaults reported since 2018.

March 2019 was an outlier with 118 reports, nearly triple the average.

Deputy Chief Police Officer Chew called on “any victim of any crime” to let police know about it.

“They can call us or visit a police station and, in the case of historic sexual assault, there’s the option to report it online,” he said.

“Police take all reports of crime seriously, and we will do everything we can to empower the victims of crime.

“Ensuring their welfare is our priority and victims can choose to start or stop the process at any point in the investigation.”

Last week, ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner Heidi Yates spoke at the announcement of tripartisan support for reform that supports survivors of sexual assault.

Ms Yates said she expected to see discussion about how to ensure that people who want to make a formal report of sexual assault to police have a safe way of doing so.  

“Together, we stand for reform in the ACT to deliver justice for survivors,” she said.  

“Justice in ensuring that our criminal justice system maximises the prosecution of offenders.

“Justice in developing across our community a culture of belief, where we can genuinely encourage victim survivors to come forward, to know that they will be heard, that they will be believed, and that they can throw off the weight of shame and guilt that has kept people silent for so long, favouring only the offenders.”

Local independent think tank, Women’s Health Matters, which advocates on behalf of anyone in the ACT who identifies as a woman, is currently surveying the community to learn more about experiences seeking services and support after sexual assault in the ACT.

Anyone wishing to report a historic sexual assault – one which occurred more than six months ago – can do so on the ACT Policing website.

Drop in other types of crimes reported

The number of property crimes and traffic infringements also decreased in the first quarter of 2021, compared to the same period in 2020.

Burglary reports decreased by over 25% from 624 to 464, robbery dropped by half from 65 to 33.

Car theft reduced slightly from 317 to 291 (9%), and property damage reports fell 11% from 1,005 to 896.

The number of Traffic Infringement Notices issued declined by 45% from 2,780 to 1,545; however, ACT Policing partially attributed this to resources being diverted to assist COVID-19 compliance at ACT’s borders.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, you can call or visit the website of:

  • 1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732
  • Canberra Rape Crisis Centre: 02 6247 2525
  • Domestic Violence Crisis Service ACT: 02 6280 0900
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
  • In an emergency, call 000

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