By Mandy Oakham
The campaign for justice for Geelong victims of sexual assault took a step forward last week.
The week saw saturation media coverage of the case of a 14-year-old girl allegedly raped by three men at St Albans Park in November 2015.
Charges against the three were withdrawn last month with the victim being too traumatised to appear in court.
Services to help such victims will be extended in the next couple of months and organisations such as Barwon Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA) will be stepping up their campaign demanding reforms to the criminal justice system.
One of the first areas to see improvement locally will be the staffing levels at Barwon CASA headquarters in Spring Street, Geelong West.
There are around 100 staff based at the headquarters combining the expertise of counsellors, police, doctors and specially trained child protection officers from the Department of Human Services.
Barwon CASA chief executive officer Helen Bolton says that the community was “bewildered and confused” when high profile cases like the St Albans Park case do not proceed.
“Here at CASA we want to just wrap our arms around victims when they come to us and we will be stepping up our campaign to help,” Helen says.
There are two things that the CASA campaign will focus on, the first being to provide a full roster of properly qualified doctors to provide a full forensic examination of those wanting to report an assault.
In the past two years Barwon CASA has overseen 65 crisis case examinations and only 29 of those were conducted in Geelong.
The second major objective of the campaign will be to provide a remote facility to allow victims to give evidence away from the courtroom and their attackers.
In Geelong there is a facility but it is located within the Geelong Courts precinct therefore victims have to sit in the open foyer of the courts before being called.
“Just walking into those Geelong courts can be extremely traumatising for victims even before they face the pressure of the legal system during a trial,” Helen says.
“In our current system, the only way that perpetrators are held accountable to face court hinges on the victim’s evidence.
“Therefore we have an obligation to provide every support to victims to enable this to occur safely.
“These people need to be assured that there is a safe place for them to go and report their cases.
“There is no compulsion for these people to proceed with legal cases if they don’t feel able to but we want to ensure that if they do decide to proceed that they are going to have all the help possible available to them locally.”
Anyone who has experienced sexual assault can call Barwon CASA on 5222 4318.