MENA Baines and Meegan Stanley are exposed to a side of life many would rather not dwell on.
The Loddon Campaspe Centre Against Sexual Assault counsellor advocates are privy to people’s trauma, including that of children.
They have seen improvements in community attitudes and systemic responses to sexual violence in the five-or-so years since they’ve each been working at LCCASA.
But there’s much they’d like to see done to improve the outcomes for survivors of sexual assault.
The greatest barriers to justice for their clients are elements of the justice system.
From reporting through to court procedures, Ms Baines and Ms Stanley said there were processes that could add to a victim’s trauma.
They included the meticulous detail victims were required to provide when making a report; forensic medical examinations; and providing evidence in court.
Ms Baines said the victim could be made to feel in court like they were the ones on trial.
Ms Stanley said the perpetrator could choose not to submit to examination in the court, and charges could be bargained down without the victim’s knowledge or consent.
Only a fraction of reported sexual assaults in Victoria result in convictions.
Ms Baines said she wanted her clients to report the crimes people had committed against them to police.
“But sometimes, it’s not in their best interest,” she said.
So what the counsellor advocates said clients would do was progress the matter therapeutically.
With the help of LCCASA and its partners, they would work through their trauma.
The counsellor advocates said being co-located with other services in the Bendigo Multidisciplinary Centre meant they and their colleagues were able to support victims of sexual assault through every step of the way.
Ms Stanley said the Central Victoria Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team, or SOCIT, was one of the biggest improvements to sexual assault responses locally.
“They are trying to make the best of the parameters they have,” she said.
While the reporting process could still be re-traumatising, Ms Stanley said SOCIT police took care to allow for breaks, in which time the victim could consult with a counsellor advocate.
Clients could also consult with their counsellor advocates before and after police interviews.
Ms Stanley said SOCIT members would talk victims through their options.
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Increased community awareness of sexual assault and violence against women meant people were becoming more informed and willing to engage in the topic.
LCCASA’s specialist expertise is increasingly sought-after by other central Victorian entities seeking to become more trauma-informed. And an increasing number of victims are reaching out to services for assistance.
Inter-generational abuse remains one of the greatest challenges the agency faces in its work in the region.
The gendered nature of sexual violence is also evident in the LCCASA client data.
“Eighty per cent of our clients are women,” Ms Stanley said.
The majority of victim survivors are females, and the majority of perpetrators of violence against men, women and children are males.
There’s still a long way to go to improve outcomes the outcomes for sexual assault survivors, but that’s why people like Ms Stanley and Ms Baines are passionate about their work.
If you or someone you know is in need of help, contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732 or www.1800respect.org.au) or the Sexual Assault Crisis Line (1800 806 292).
For Loddon Campaspe CASA, call 5441 0430.
In an emergency, call 000.