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Price of justice: Report says female sexual assault victims forced to buy own rape kits

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Women subjected to sexual assault in Queensland are struggling to obtain rape kits and in some cases are being charged for forensic medical examinations.

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The horrific details are included in the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce’s final report tabled by Women’s Minister and Attorney General Shannon Fentiman this week.

The revelations, which taskforce chair Justice Margaret McMurdo has described as ‘heart-wrenching’, have prompted the LNP Opposition to demand the Palaszczuk Government “immediately” make rape kits free and available for all women across Queensland.

In one account, a woman travelled 1300km for an examination only to be turned back because of a miscommunication.

Others have had rape kits accidentally destroyed, or are being left to wait for treatment in emergency departments for hours at a time with no food, water or clean clothing.

The report also found that victims who were not eligible for Medicare were in some cases forced to pay for medical treatment.

Opposition Leader David Crisafulli said no victim should be subject to any costs for a forensic medical examination.

“The findings in this report are disturbing,” he said.

“If a male tourist had his wallet stolen we would not charge him to investigate the crime. Why on earth would we charge a female victim of rape to investigate the crime committed against her.

“This is not a health issue, these women are victims of crime.”

Shadow Minister for the Prevention of Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence Amanda Camm said while the report called on Queensland Health to immediately stop charging victims for any treatment or tests, the minister needed to go further and remove the practice from Queensland Health.

“A forensic medical examination is a harrowing experience for any victim of sexual assault,” she said.

“The fact that some of these women have been asked to pay for such examinations is outrageous.

“This is evidence gathering for a victim of crime who is seeking justice.

“I’m calling on the minister to ensure Queensland Health practices and processes and frontline services support victims.”

A spokesperson from Fentiman’s office said the charging of rape kits and forensic sexual assault medical treatments was a matter for Queensland Health.

Growing accounts of sexual assault against women comes as Queensland leads the nation on proportionally higher numbers of women in prison, with incarceration rates directly linked to experiences of ‘lived’ sexual violence.

Following the initial report that focused on coercive control and domestic violence, McMurdo’s final report as head of the taskforce examines the barriers faced by Queensland women and girls accessing the criminal justice system, both as victims and as offenders.

McMurdo said there was a clear link between the experience of women as targets of sexual assault and the state’s ballooning incarceration figures.

“I came to realise that because the justice and corrections systems were principally designed, and until comparatively recently, administered, by men and with a male perspective, they do not focus on the needs of women victims or women offenders,” she said.

“This was a confronting reality for a woman who had been a barrister or judge for 40 years.”

Findings in the report highlight that one in five women and one in 20 men in Queensland experience sexual violence, but only 13 per cent of sexual assaults are reported to police.

Numbers of women in prison have grown by more than 30 per cent in recent years, almost four times the male offender growth rate.

Numbers of First Nations women in Queensland prisons have grown by more than 120 per cent and numbers of non-Indigenous women by more than 80 per cent.

McMurdo said the taskforce visited women and girls in custody and heard their voices.

“We spoke to women who had recently left prison. All were victims of domestic, family, sexual or physical violence,” she said.

“Many were victims of multiple forms of violence. We heard how costly it is for prisoners to phone their family and how few rehabilitative, healing and education programs are available.

“We saw the draconian conditions of the safety and detention units.

“We heard heart-wrenching stories of women who had miscarried or had still births in prison without access to proper medical care.

“We heard of the difficulties for criminalised women returning to the community to rebuild their lives and their broken families.

“We learned that the housing crisis is so acute that women eligible for parole are not released as they cannot find one basic room anywhere in Queensland to live.”

McMurdo said women they spoke to wanted changes to sexual assault laws, the way police, prosecutors and defence lawyers treat them, and the way trials are conducted.

“They want the community to be better educated about sexual assault, its impact, and the law relating to it,” she said.

McMurdo said her taskforce had responded to “these disparate and desperate voices” with 188 recommendations.

“Some are about changing the law relating to sexual assault, improving criminal justice responses, and educating the community about these reforms and the fundamental importance of respectful sexual relationships based on mutual agreement to consent,” she said.

“Others relate to prison and sentencing reform so that fewer women offenders will be unnecessarily incarcerated. The taskforce recommends that women offenders, whether in prison or in the community, receive focussed, individualised assistance to rehabilitate.”

Estimates put the costs of keeping one person in prison at $120,000 a year.

McMurdo said given the sky-rocketing rates of female incarceration, the failure of prison to reduce recidivism, and the “astronomical costs of imprisonment”, the taskforce’s recommendations if adopted would be “safer and more cost-effective for our community”.

A spokesperson from Fentiman’s office said the State Government had committed $363 million to implementing the recommendations of the taskforce’s first report.

Part of that funding has been allocated to building a new specialist Domestic and Family Violence Court for Cairns alongside the Women’s Legal Service and the Cairns Regional Domestic Violence Service, which the Attorney-General announced this week.

Fentiman, who is also Minister for Women and the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence said the state government would also accept the six recommendations of the DFV Death Review and Advisory Board in its 2020-21 annual report.

“We are absolutely committed to ending violence against women and girls,” Fentiman said.

Corrective Services Minister Mark Ryan has also announced the expansion of the Southern Queensland Correctional Precinct at Gatton, promising to build a new facility that will house male prisoners next door to the current women’s prison.

He said the expansion represented a 500-bed increase, and will boost capacity by 50 per cent

Ryan confirmed that when the new facility is completed, the Palaszczuk Government will have delivered more than 5300 additional beds across the Queensland correctional system.

 

 

 

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