Since the late 1980s, policing practices have changed to recognise the difficulties in investigating sex offences, particularly those committed by serial offenders. This has seen the establishment of specialist squads around Australia to police serial sex offenders, other types of serious sex offending and online sex offences. In addition, specialist policing aims to minimise attrition rates by improving evidence gathering and the response of police to victims of sexual assault.
Most specialist police squads appear to be more focused on, and dedicated to, the offences of extra-familial offenders rather than those that occur in a family violence context. The extent to which specialist police squads alone can increase the policing and apprehension of sex offenders is difficult to assess. Police have indicated that reform must be linked to providing additional training and resources.
Question 17–1 Have specialist police squads for sex crimes increased the policing and apprehension of sexual assault offenders, including in a family violence context?
Question 17–2 To what extent is the work of specialist police hampered by lack of training and resources? In what ways can improvements be made?
Police and integrated agency responses
Specialised police units also have roles in integrating police responses with those of other government agencies involved in child protection. For example, Victoria Police has a Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (SOCA) Coordination Office which collaborates with government and non-government agencies in relation to coordinated approaches to family violence, sexual assault and child abuse. In January 2007, Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams (SOCITs) and Multidisciplinary Centres (MDCs) were established to improve government and police responses to sexual assault.
The SOCITs are staffed by specialist police investigators and specialist sexual assault counsellors. The SOCIT is a victim-centred service delivery and investigative model, which aims to enhance the chances of prosecution and victim satisfaction with the handling of cases. It was developed by Victoria Police in response to the VLRC’s 2004 report on sexual offences.
The Commissions have heard that specialised police responses to sexual assault are important for complainants. However, not all sexual assault offences are dealt with by specialist police or units and considerable barriers may exist for complainants of sexual assault, particularly in rural, remote and Indigenous communities, including problems with access to police and forensic examination facilities.
Question 17–3 Are specialised police and integrated agency responses effective in reducing the attrition of sexual assault cases during the police investigation phase? If not, what further measures should be taken?
Question 17–4 What impact are specialised police units having on improving collection of admissible evidence and support for victims of sexual assault in a family violence context?
Question 17–5 Should specialised sexual assault police units be established in jurisdictions that do not have them?