Sexual violence is a significant social problem in New Zealand, with approximately one in six people experiencing one or more incidents of sexual violence at some point during their lives . Many victims of sexual violence find that their lives are severely negatively impacted by the offending in wide ranging ways, but particularly in relation to emotional and mental health. These effects can be long-lasting and affect relationships, wider family/whānau, and work. Only a small proportion of these victims report the incident to Police.
The Law Commission report on the justice response to sexual violence (2015) considered whether the processes for justice in cases of sexual violence required changing to improve fairness, effectiveness, efficiency, and how complainants experienced the court system.
The report found that the justice system often failed to respond appropriately to victims of sexual violence and that this could lead to significant secondary victimisation and contribute to the low rates of reporting of sexual violence to NZ Police. Fear and distrust of the legal system is another reason that victims often do not report incidents of sexual violence perpetrated against them.
The Ministry of Justice is currently implementing a suite of operational changes aimed at improving the experience for sexual violence complainants in the criminal justice system, with an emphasis on reducing the risk of revictimisation. In addition, the Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice (Domestic and Sexual Violence Issues) is considering legislative reforms in response to other outstanding Law Commission recommendations. To be able to assess the impact of these operational changes and any potential legislative reforms in the future, the Ministry of Justice commissioned Gravitas Research and Strategy to collect baseline data on the perspectives of victims of sexual violence who have had some contact with the justice system, that is the Police and courts, over the previous three years.