Two Victorian stories:
VICTORIA’s rape laws will be strengthened to ensure defendants cannot avoid being found guilty by arguing they had not considered whether a victim had consented to sex.
Attorney-General Rob Hulls said several new changes to rape laws were aimed at reducing the number of appeals and retrials in rape cases.
Rape laws must be updated to keep up with community expectations, he said.
“We need to shed the shackles of secrecy and shame in our system,” Mr Hulls told Parliament yesterday. “We certainly need a system that encourages people to come forward and a system that gives them cause for hope that really recognises the courage of victims.”
Mr Hulls also said the new legislation would strengthen the direction judges gave to juries in rape cases and would apply to other relevant sexual offences.
The changes are part of the response to a 2004 Law Reform Commission report on sexual offences law.
That defendants now, finally, will have to show that they at least considered the issue of consent in order to have a viable defence against the charge of rape. I’m not sure that this proposed reform entirely removes the presumption that consent exists unless active denial can be shown, but it’s a good start, and it’s shameful that the bar until now has been set so low that this was not previously a standard rule.
The Victorian government has however passed on reforming Victoria’s abortion laws to decriminalise abortion for the moment, referring the issue to the Law Reform Commission for a comprehensive report. This has led to the withdrawal of a private member’s bill proposing the decriminalisation of abortion which was introduced only a few weeks ago.
Victorian Labor MP Candy Broad will withdraw a private member’s bill to decriminalise abortion today.
The move comes after the Premier, John Brumby, announced a review of abortion laws by the Law Reform Commission.
Mr Brumby says he’s concerned current abortion practices are based on a common law ruling handed down forty years ago.
Ms Broad says the government will provide a new bill, based on the findings of the review.
“I’ve examined the things that have been said about that reference to the law reform commission,” she said.
“I believe that they do pick up the essential elements of what women and doctors in Victoria are looking for, and that is to remove the threat of criminal prosecution from over their heads,” she said.
There’s some concern that this referral to the Law Reform Commission is mainly an attempt to shift discussion to a more electorally convenient time for Federal Labor, and that the known anti-abortion stance of many in the Victorian Parliament is affecting how they are addressing the issue.
The Liberal Upper House MP Richard Della Riva has described the Premier’s decision to review abortion laws as gutless.
“I think he’s just following the former Premier’s way of avoiding and ducking and weaving,” he said.
“He’s too scared to come with the outcome that may have occured this week in the Upper House. That’s the hard facts,” he said.
So, an improvement in outcomes for rape survivors, and prolonged uncertainty (albeit with the implied promise of improvement) for women and doctors terminating unplanned/unviable pregnancies.
Movement on these issues is encouraging, but it’s soooo glacial.