The NSW Police Force has unveiled an enhanced online reporting option to allow victims of sexual assault to provide information without having to take part in a formal police interview.
While police always encourage victims of any crime to make a formal report, it is acknowledged that for a number of reasons, victims of sexual assault often do not wish to speak about their experiences nor speak with police and go through the legal process.
The NSW Police Force’s Sexual Assault Reporting Option (SARO) has been in existence since 2012, allowing victims to report a sexual assault without any obligation to participate in further lines of inquiry.
From 13 January 2023, the SARO is accessed through the online Community Portal and is available in 12 languages, making the reporting option more accessible to victims.
This replaces the old process of printing and completing a 14-page document and emailing the State Crime Command’s Sex Crimes Squad.
NSW Deputy Premier and Minister for Police Paul Toole said the advancement in the online reporting system puts victims of sexual assault first when reporting and investigating these serious crimes.
“While we want to stop would-be perpetrators before it’s too late, it’s absolutely critical we take a victim-focussed approach to supporting those involved through the reporting option,” Mr Toole said.
“Through the hard work of those involved in the Sexual Violence Project, NSW Police have been able to identify ways to better support victims through their journey and to also ensure we take all opportunities to reduce offending.
“While the online portal does not commence a police investigation, it empowers victims of sexual assault to take the first step and record their sexual assault, whether or not they wish at a later date to have the matter investigated.
“The NSW Government is committed to providing the best services and support for victims of crime, and I am passionate about this project and what it can do to help those in vulnerable positions come forward on their own terms.”
NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb said this is an important step forward to help victim-survivors of sexual violence retain control over their level of contact with police and what happens next.
“For many victim-survivors, a police investigation and court process are the farthest thing from their mind and often they feel further traumatised through the process,” Commissioner Webb said.
“We understand and recognise that a successful prosecution is not always the desired outcome or the only measure of success
“Victims can report via SARO anonymously without further contact from police, or they can elect to be identified and request that police follow up in certain circumstances.
“We know that sexual violence continues to be under-reported, and we hope that by providing victims with alternative reporting options we will be better placed to understand sexual violence in the community, assist victims, and hold offenders accountable.”
State Crime Command’s Sex Crimes Squad Commander, Superintendent Jayne Doherty, said the NSW Police Force is continuing to review and improve its practices and procedures around sexual violence.
“Our ongoing focus is to create a trauma-informed, victim-centric response to sexual violence – the enhanced SARO is another important resource for both survivors and investigators,” Det Supt Doherty said.
“While trauma affects individuals in different ways, reporting can be therapeutic for those victims who wish to share their experience and do so online from their own home or a safe location. For some victims, this may be their first disclosure of the sexual assault.
“The number of SARO reports continues to steadily increase each year, with the monthly average increasing from 64 reports in 2021 to 70 in 2022.
“This allows us to continue to gather information which can be used to develop future strategies that target repeat offenders and can determine modus operandi or links between cases.”
Full Stop Australia’s Director of Clinical and Client Services Tara Hunter said this is a great step forward in addressing the barriers experienced by victim-survivors when engaging with the justice system.
“The enhanced SARO will provide choice and greater accessibility for victim-survivors of sexual violence.
“We know sexual violence in our community continues to be under-reported and we see the SARO as a tool for victim-survivors to make initial contact with police following an incident of sexual violence, where they are able record the details and return to making a more formal statement if and when they are ready.”
“Full Stop Australia supports these improvements to increase the reporting of sexual violence incidents in our community and look forward to continue working to better our justice and support systems for survivors of sexual, domestic and family violence.”
The Community Portal sexual assault page will include an online reporting form (SARO) that allows victims to:
• report their sexual assault in English or 11 other languages,
• report their sexual assault anonymously,
• upload images such as screen shots of social media or dating app profiles,
• respond to SARO questions that are tailored to their experience,
• request follow-up contact from a police officer,
• download their SARO report from the site and via email or text,
• receive a SARO reference number on the site and via email or text, and
• access the community portal via desktop and mobile devices.
The SARO questionnaire can be located on the NSW Police Force website: https://portal.police.nsw.gov.au/adultsexualassault/s/sexualassaultreportingoption