Criminal Code Amendment Bill 2022
22 March 2022
Mrs PETRUSMA (Franklin – Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Management) – Mr Speaker, I rise in support of the Criminal Code Amendment Bill 2022 which will introduce the new standalone criminal offence of non-fatal strangulation, choking and suffocation, and will amend the definition of consent in relation to stealthing.
I commend the Attorney-General, the department and all the stakeholders and the public who made submissions to this bill, and for all they have done in bringing this bill into this parliament. I know how passionate and committed the Attorney-General is in bringing forward this bill, as well as her commitment to ensuring that our family and sexual violence laws are contemporary and best practice.
I also acknowledge and pay tribute to the courage of all victims/survivors of family and sexual violence, especially those who have lived through non-fatal strangulation, choking, suffocation and stealthing. This bill is for them. I also thank all those in our Government and in our NGOs, who assist victims/survivors of family and sexual violence and help them in their most vulnerable time of need, and for their strong dedication and ongoing efforts to support Tasmanians impacted by family and sexual violence.
Every Tasmanian has the right to live free from all forms of violence and abuse. That is why eliminating violence, especially family and sexual violence, is a top priority for the Attorney-General, for me, for our Government and indeed, for this parliament. Violence against anyone in any form is unacceptable, but the harm caused by family and sexual violence is particularly devastating. This is why, since 2015, this Government has undertaken significant legislative reform, including legislation to hold perpetrators of family and sexual violence to account and provide access to specialist legal support services.
The Criminal Code Amendment Bill 2022 recognises that non-fatal strangulation, choking or suffocation is a significant form of violence which can be a precursor for escalation in the severity of family and domestic violence. Tasmania Police has advised that there are approximately 16 family violence incidents per month that involve an element of non-fatal strangulation or choking. This represents around one in every 20 family violence incidents reported to Tasmania Police. Male perpetrators are more likely than females to attempt to strangle their victim, with Tasmania Police advising that 5.7 per cent of family violence incidents with male perpetrators involved attempted strangulation, versus 1.2 per cent of incidents with female perpetrators. Non-fatal strangulation or choking is also regarded as a high-risk factor for family violence offending, therefore evidence of non-fatal strangulation is considered by police when assessing the risk level of each incident.
I am also advised that more than one in five incidents that were categorised as high-risk last year involved non-fatal strangulation or choking. This demonstrates that there is a definite need for the standalone offence of non-fatal strangulation in Tasmania. These statistics are also why our Government wants to ensure that incidents of non-fatal strangulation are recorded on a person’s criminal record, by ensuring that perpetrators are charged and prosecuted for a specific criminal offence in recognition of the utmost seriousness of this form of violence.
Non-fatal strangulation is never acceptable. Therefore, recognising it as a specific indictable offence in its own right recognises the seriousness of this behaviour and will enhance the safety of victims of family violence. Importantly, it will carry a statutory and maximum penalty of 21 years imprisonment, consistent with most offences under the Criminal Code.
I note that the bill also amends the definition of consent in relation to stealthing, which has been the subject of legislative reform in other states. Stealthing refers to the situation in which the person consented to sexual activity on the basis that a condom would be used and the other person then deliberately does not use, damages or removes the condom before or during the sexual activity, without the agreement of the other person.
From attending meetings with other jurisdictions in regards to women’s safety, our consent laws are seen as nation-leading. This is because section 2A of our Criminal Code already provides that a person does not freely agree to a sexual act if the person does not say or do anything to communicate consent. This is akin to the concept of affirmative consent, which is considered by many to be best practice. An expanded definition of consent through this bill will therefore make it plain that there is no free agreement to an act of sexual intercourse if a person says or does anything to communicate to the other person that a condom must be used and the other person intentionally does not use, tampers with, or removes the condom before or during the sexual intercourse.
Ordinarily, stealthing would vitiate consent under our nation-leading laws. However, our strong reforms for the inclusion of a specific provision for stealthing are designed to avoid any doubt, will help with education efforts in regards to prevention of violence against women, will hopefully discourage would-be offenders, and will also support the making of complaints and prosecutions for sexual offences such as rape.
Stealthing is an emerging issue for the criminal law. This is why law reform alongside education regarding consent is so important as it helps to change behaviours and attitudes in our society.
I have listened to Ms O’Connor’s contribution and a little of Ms Haddad’s contribution, and I hear what they have said about consistency in regards to police response. I want to assure them that both me as minister and the Commissioner of Police are very determined that any victim/survivor will have a consistent response across Tasmania. I will speak about MDCs later on in my contribution. The MDCs are about ensuring that we have a one-stop place where people can go to get the best service provision they need at the time when they report. At any time, if a member has any concerns about the police response, I ask you to please contact me. I assure you that I will follow it up. Now that police have body-worn cameras we have the date, the time, and where it happened, so we can follow it up. I ask members to bring it forward. Tasmania Police want to make sure our victims/survivors get the best response they can.
Regarding training, Tasmania Police officers receive training on family and sexual violence during their recruitment course and then constantly through their service. This includes regular training days, which occur every five weeks, and through in-service courses. These amendments will be included as part of this training to ensure that our police officers know how to assist victims/survivors and how to apply this important legislation to prosecute offenders.
The senior investigators also have a forum where they meet regularly to discuss changes to legislation and investigative procedures. This will inform how police are taught to apply this legislation, including these amendments.
As well as these formal methods of training, police officers are continually undergoing on-the-job training and coaching in relation to family violence responses. Every family violence incident is reviewed by a supervisor and feedback provided, meaning there is a constant training loop in this area. In Tasmania, family violence is the only crime type that requires supervisor validation, demonstrating the importance that Tasmania Police places on its response to family violence.
To further strengthen our legislative reform agenda, I am pleased to note that this week the Attorney-General has introduced the Family Violence Reforms Bill to create a new declaration for repeat family violence offenders and introduce the ability to mandate participation and behaviour change programs as part of a family violence order. These amendments are also part of Action 30 of our second family and sexual violence action plan Safe Homes, Families, Communities, which commits to the implementation of legislative reform to strengthen legal responses to family and sexual violence and builds on the amendments already implemented, including:
- introducing a declaration scheme under the Dangerous Criminals and High-Risk Offenders Act 2020 for high-risk serious sex or violent offenders, enabling them to be monitored after their release from prison.
- amending the Evidence Act 2001 to allow victims of sexual offences the right to speak out publicly and to identify themselves.
- changing the language used in the Criminal Code relating to sexual crimes against children to reflect the gravity of such acts.
- introducing the new crime of persistent family violence and enabling courts to impose electronic monitoring on a person as a condition of a family violence order.
The Government takes its role very seriously. This is why, since the launch of our first nation-leading action plan in 2015 and under our second action plan launched in 2019, the Government has continued to build upon its commitment, investment and scope, in preventing and responding to family and sexual violence in Tasmania. We do not apologise for sending the strongest message to offenders that harmful and violent acts will not be tolerated and that the Tasmanian Government is committed to supporting victims of domestic, family and sexual violence. This is why we have invested over $300 million in direct and indirect services in responding to family and sexual violence, including $63 million for specific measures under our first and second action plans.
As a result of our significant investment through our action plans over the past seven years, we have implemented a wide range of reforms and measures aimed at primary prevention of family and sexual violence, response and recovery supports and initiatives to strengthen the service system.
This includes delivering a range of programs designed to reduce offending by family violence perpetrators and having early interventions available for low-risk perpetrators and men who have self-identified the need to change their behaviours, such as the Men’s Referral Service. This service provides a point of contact for men taking responsibility for their violent behaviour as well as support and referrals for women and men seeking information on behalf of their male partners, friends or family members, and support services seeking assistance for their clients. No to Violence has delivered the Men’s Referral Service in Tasmania since December 2015. In addition to self-referrals, the Men’s Referral Service delivers the early intervention response, where perpetrators are called within 48 hours of a family violence incident attended by police and offered counselling and referral to appropriate services.
In 2021, there was a 208 per cent increase in inbound calls to the Men’s Referral Service from the previous year. The significant increase in calls, both self referrals and return calls to the early intervention response, indicates a really positive uptake in men seeking help for behaviour change and increased awareness of the service. Access to rehabilitative services and programs for family violence perpetrators, like the Men’s Referral Service is essential if we are to achieve long-term change in offending rates. Therefore, it is pleasing to see that the early intervention response is having a clear impact on engaging men to take steps to end violent behaviours.
In regards to high risk perpetrators, the Government is providing ongoing funding for electronic monitoring following the outcomes of our trial that showed a 76 per cent decrease in high-risk incidents, a 75 per cent reduction in assaults, an 81 per cent reduction of threats, a 74 per cent decrease in property damage, 100 per cent decrease in reports of stalking, and 80 per cent of offenders did not reoffend in the six months following the removal of the electronic monitoring device.
These extraordinary results are why Project Vigilance won a silver award in November last year at the 2021 Australian Crime and Violence Prevention Awards.
On 18 March 2022, the Australian Government introduced a further $150 million funding into a range of measures to deliver on its commitment to end family, domestic and sexual abuse. This additional funding includes a $104 million technology-focused package to keep women and children safe and to prevent devices being used to perpetrate or facilitate family, domestic and sexual violence. This includes establishing a $20 million fund for states and territories to trial electronic monitoring of high-risk and persistent domestic violence offenders based on Tasmania’s award-winning Project Vigilance.
It is fantastic for Tasmania to again be acknowledged for all its great work, especially the nation-leading efforts in that regard.
In recent years there have been a significant increase in the reporting of sexual violence which comes amid unprecedented public disclosure, media attention and awareness around sexual violence and consent, including in regards to non-fatal strangulation, choking, suffocation and consent in relation to stealthing.
The Government also recognises that this increased demand, together with the unique challenges provided during the COVID-19 pandemic, has required an increased investment in family and sexual violence support services. This is why since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have invested an extra $10.8 million in state and national partnership funding for additional responses to family and sexual violence. This includes $6.1 million additional funding across nine specialist family and sexual violence services to increase operational capacity and to respond to demand.
Our community-based family violence services do an inspirational job of delivering confidential specialised family violence responses for individuals and groups. This includes therapeutic counselling, referral and information support to establish safety, restore confidence and support personal recovery goals. Specialist community-based services also play a very important role in primary prevention and early intervention through the provision of information, education and training to members of the community, and other service providers, including in regard to non‑fatal strangulation, choking, suffocation and stealthing.
To further assist victims and survivors of non‑fatal strangulation, choking, suffocation and stealthing, in his state of the state address the Premier announced that we will be establishing multidisciplinary centres in Tasmania. These centres will ensure we are providing a best-practice sexual and family violence response in Tasmania that puts victims/survivors at the centre, including victims/survivors of the offences we are talking about today. Multidisciplinary centres are a proven model in other jurisdictions, both nationally and internationally, as they ensure that victims/survivors of family and sexual violence receive immediate and integrated wraparound support in a safe place from a range of services. This is a landmark outcome for victims/survivors who will be the centre of this new support model.
In addition, this will be the most significant change in how we respond to family and sexual violence since we came to government in 2014. These new facilities will be a place where victims/survivors can access the support and services that they need and, if they are ready, to formally report these offences to specialist police investigators through the provision of multidisciplinary support teams, including family and sexual support and counselling services, witness intermediaries, police and other related services. In addition, these new centres will recognise the intersection between sexual and family violence by expanding the capabilities and resourcing of the Safe Families Coordination Unit to include sexual violence more broadly, therefore creating a multi‑agency response and intelligence hub with more effective working relationships between agencies for both sexual and family violence.
The provision of multidisciplinary centres will address the increasing need for services for both adult and children victims/survivors, and I am pleased to note that funding will be included in this year’s Budget for the first of these centres, with planning work already commenced which will be coordinated alongside the development and release of our Government’s next family and sexual violence action plan.
The Tasmanian Government is a strong supporter of primary prevention research and education, because this is key to challenging attitudes and behaviours that contribute to non‑fatal strangulation, choking, suffocation and stealthing. This is why Tasmania is a foundation member of Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety, or ANROWS, with our ongoing membership a dedicated action under Safe Homes, Families, Communities. Our continued support for ANROWS recognises the very important work that they do towards ensuring evidence‑based approaches underpin all family and sexual violence priorities, programs and services. ANROWS commissions research by expert academics and practitioners and conducts its own research. Research published or in development includes Defining and Responding to Coercive Control, while another one is titled Chuck Her on a Lie Detector: Investigating Australia’s Mistrust in Women’s Report of Sexual Assault.
On 26 February 2022 ANROWS released two reports on intimate partner homicides which are relevant to the bill before us today. The first was Australian Domestic and Family Violence Death Review Network Data Report: Intimate Partner Violence Homicides 2010‑2018. This report found that in regard to fatal assaults, where a male homicide offender killed a female intimate partner, in 31 cases the cause of death was suffocation or strangulation. In 29 cases, death was due to multiple assaultive behaviours from the homicide offender, for example, suffocation or strangulation and assault with a blunt weapon. Of the male homicide offenders who killed their male intimate partner, only one suffocated the victim. Furthermore, physical violence including non‑fatal strangulation was used in 169 of 212 cases where a male primary domestic violence abuser killed a female domestic violence victim.
The second report is Pathways to Intimate Partner Homicide Project: Key Stages and Events in Male-Perpetrated Intimate Partner Homicide in Australia. This report discussed three pathways to intimate partner homicide in offenders – fixated threat, persistent and disorderly, and deterioration acute stressor. The persistent and disorderly type is the most common pathway to intimate partner homicide, with relationships characterised by persistent intimate partner violence and frequent criminal justice contact.
Looking at the nature of intimate partner violence within a relationship, there was evidence that 79 per cent of persistent and disorderly offenders were abusive towards their victim during their relationship. Primarily, abuse was physical, including slapping, hitting, punching, assaults with a weapon, and non‑fatal strangulation. This evidence graphically shows us that eliminating family sexual violence will only occur if we stop it at the start and address the underlying drivers of gendered violence to drive the long‑term change needed.
This is why our Government has also been a proud member of Our Watch since 2015, and why in 2020 we commenced our nation-leading partnership which established the role of Our Watch as senior advisor in Tasmania to support and drive change in Tasmanian communities and settings.
On 6 March 2022 I was pleased to know that the Australian Government announced additional funding of $189 million over five years to strengthen prevention and early intervention efforts in family sexual violence. The funding package includes $104 million over five years for Our Watch, the largest investment ever made to this outstanding organisation, to help expand its role as a trusted source of training and advice and a national centre of excellence on prevention, including helping to drive change in the corporate sector, providing campaigns and resources that raise awareness around gendered violence, and developing safety programs to be used in key settings such as TAFEs, universities, the media, workplaces and sports organisations. Our Watch will also boost its efforts in prevention for LGBTIQA+ Australians, Australians with disability, and migrant women, and will develop further resources to educate young people about consent.
These resources on consent will also assist with the respectful relationships education being delivered in Tasmanian government schools, and I am also pleased to see the recent announcement about embedding consent education in the Australian school curriculum from early next year. The Australian Government has also committed $48 million for a new campaign that focuses on confronting the attitudes and expectations of some men which condones or excuses family violence; $32 million for a consent campaign focused on young people 12 and older and their parents; and $5 million to develop a survey of secondary school students on issues related to consent. I was also pleased to note that on 18 March as part of the Australian Government’s announcement of a further $150 million funding, the government is also committing an additional $46 million to roll out two further phases of the Stop It at the Start campaign to help drive change in people’s attitudes towards violence, including sexual violence, and to raise awareness of new and emerging issues such as technology-facilitated abuse.
Under action 4 of Safe Homes, Families, Communities, we also continue to support the Australian Government’s national campaign Stop It At the Start, as well as the development of new activities to raise community awareness of sexual violence, which will also help support the reforms we are doing in this bill, and the community awareness campaign that will be developed will help ensure that we send a clear and strong statement about the seriousness of the harmful act of non-fatal strangulation.
Sadly, often without realising, adults play down boys disrespectful behaviour, blame girls by questioning their role, and empathise with males. These words and actions can unintentionally shape young people’s views about more serious behaviour such as non-fatal strangulation and stealthing, and this is why the national Stop It at the Start campaign is helping to break this cycle of violence by supporting adults to have conversations with young people about respect, encouraging adults to reflect on their attitudes and behaviours, and providing bystander strategies for both adults and young people to intervene where they see disrespectful behaviours.
This campaign will also now run alongside the other new national campaigns to be developed and delivered, with an additional $91 million Australian Government funding, which will run across mass media channels including television, cinema, social media and bus stops. This campaign will help ensure that crucial messages about consent are heard in every home around Australia so that we are all empowered to have conversations with young people, our family and friends about this important issue. These campaigns will also be drawing on the success of campaigns such as Scotland’s Don’t Be That Guy, as well as a second campaign that will ask men to consider how they hold each other to account, because sexual violence should not be considered a woman’s problem to solve.
Recent national conversations have highlighted the importance of hearing from people with lived experience, which is why we are putting the voices of victims/survivors at the centre of our consultation approach in developing our next family and sexual violence action plan to be released in July 2020. To inform the development of our next action plan, we have already commenced a comprehensive consultation process that engages with people with lived and diverse experience, the community, and key stakeholders. This consultation process will help us to develop a range of new evidence-based initiatives based on feedback from those who are most impacted, which is why we would really welcome hearing from victims/survivors of non-fatal strangulation, choking, suffocation and stealthing.
I was pleased to recently launch the public consultation process to inform the development of our next family and sexual violence action plan, and I am very grateful that Mayor Mary Knowles OAM, as a victim/survivor herself, has kindly agreed to be our consultation ambassador to encourage other victims/survivors to share with us about their own personal experiences. There are five key elements of our community consultation, including the Hearing Lived Experience survey 2022; establishing a victim‑survivor advisory council; partnering with Tasmanian Aboriginal people. There will also be targeted workshops with stakeholders, especially those with diverse lived experience, including people with disability, women from CALD communities, women from rural and regional communities and LGBTIQA+ Tasmanians, which will be held before and after Easter, as well as public written submissions, which will be called for very soon.
The Hearing Lived Experience survey 2022 is an online public survey for adult victim‑survivors with lived experience of family and sexual violence. It will be providing an opportunity for victim‑survivors to share their experiences. The survey will also build upon our previous survey that was conducted in 2018 by also including people’s experiences of sexual violence in addition to family violence and, importantly, provides people with the opportunity to share their story anonymously. The survey is being promoted to family and sexual violence service providers and a statewide advertising campaign and can be accessed through the QR code on promotional posters from the Tasmanian Government Safe from Violence website. I thank all members in this parliament who have put up these posters in their electorate offices to increase awareness and to encourage responses.
The survey is open for 12 months, giving people a chance to have their say at a time that is safe for them. We understand that relating a person’s experiences can be traumatic. For people who cannot access the internet, the survey is now available as a hardcopy booklet at all Service Tasmania outlets, as well as local Neighbourhood Houses.
Information about the booklets is also being circulated to local councils through the Local Government Association in Tasmania. For those councils who wish to participate, posters and booklets were also made available for collection at the recent Local Government Association of Tasmania conference on 18 March 2022.
I am pleased to note that as of yesterday we have already received 519 completed survey responses in just over five weeks. Given that the 2018 Hearing Lived Experience survey received 500 responses in total, this is a fantastic level of take‑up in such a short period of time.
Our awareness‑raising advertising campaign is also achieving a fantastic reach with, as of yesterday, ads on social media generating over one million impressions and over 12 500 link clicks and swipe ups. On Facebook, this has reached more than 80 000 unique users; on TikTok it has reached more than 72 000 unique users and on Snapchat it has reached more than 30 000 distinct users.
In Tasmania we also have our Safe from Violence website, which is designed to increase community awareness about family violence and its underlying drivers; provide family sexual violence service contact information and pathways to seeking support.
In February our Safe from Violence website had a 535 per cent increase in monthly page views because of the launch of the Hearing Lived Experience survey. It has also had 400 daily page views since the launch of the survey. This is fantastic because it means that more people are going to the website and seeing how it provides clear and targeted information. It also provides online resources and links about family and sexual violence for a range of people, including victim‑survivors, perpetrators, family and friends, children and young people, service providers and the broader community. The website also provides targeted information for groups that are at increased risk of experiencing violence or who may experience additional barriers to seeking support, including children and young people and culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
The Safe from Violence website has had significantly increased traffic due to the launch of the survey and the information and the resources that it offers the community about family and sexual violence is fantastic. As part of our awareness‑raising campaign in regards to nonfatal strangulation, choking, suffocation and stealthing, the website will be updated with this information and resources produced to further increase awareness about these offences.
Development of the action plan will involve collaboration across government. We will also be working with the Family and Sexual Violence Community Consultative Group, our Victim Survivor Advisory Council, as well as with a large number of government and non‑government stakeholders and service providers. To cement the success of the next action plan, I am also looking forward to working collaboratively with all of my parliamentary colleagues.
As I wrap up today, I commend my colleague, the Attorney-General, on this bill and thank her for her outstanding dedication and commitment to introducing a new standalone criminal offence of strangulation, choking and suffocation, and to amend the definition of consent in relation to stealthing. This builds on the work that this Government and previous governments have already done. It will underpin our efforts to hold perpetrators to account and will help deliver on our shared aim of eliminating family and sexual violence.
I also thank the department for all that they have done in drafting this bill. I commend this bill to the House.