Despite 30 years of significant change to the way the criminal justice system responds to sexual violence, conviction rates have gone down in Australia, Canada, and England and Wales.
Victim/survivors continue to express dissatisfaction with how the police and courts handle their cases and with their experience of the trial process. Many commentators and researchers recognise that the crux of the problem is cultural beliefs about gender and sexuality, which dilute and undermine the intentions of rape law reform. These beliefs affect victims adversely, but at the same time, increased criminalisation and penalisation of offenders is not likely to yield constructive outcomes.
This paper reflects on the limits of legal reform in improving outcomes for victim/survivors. Given the extent of reform to procedural, substantive, and evidentiary aspects of sexual assault legal cases, we may have exhausted its potential to change the response to sexual assault. We may need to consider innovative justice responses, which may be part of the legal system or lie beyond it.