Sexual violence is both a health and public safety issue. This means that many incidents of sexual violence may result in contact with health service. It is therefore important for health professionals to be aware, in broad terms, of the reporting options available to victim/survivors of sexual violence.
If a person has been sexually assaulted, then they have the option of reporting this to police with a view to investigating this as a sexual offence. If the incident occurred recently, they may then also be offered a forensic medical examination, depending on the nature of the case. Forensic medical examinations are usually accessed via a specialised forensic medical service.
Not everyone feels comfortable with going to the police.
If a person is not sure about reporting to police, then many jurisdictions they may still be able to access a forensic medical examination under “just-in-case” provisions. This means that they undergo a forensic medical examination, but that those samples are stored in a non-police-setting, usually for a period of 3-6 months which allows a period of time for the victim/survivor to consider their options. If they have not reported to police after this period then the samples are usually destroyed.
If a person does not wish for their own assault to be investigated by police, but wishes that information to be available for wider safety issues, then there are anonymous online reporting options such as S.A.R.A (Sexual Assault Report Anonymously - Sexual Assault Report Anonymously (S.A.R.A.) - 2014 Australian Mobile & App Awards (betterfutureawards.com). The Ugly Mugs program offers similar options for sex workers: Ugly Mugs - RhED (sexworker.org.au).
There are mandatory reporting obligations for health professionals relating to sexual assault occurring in certain context.
These include offences against children or people who are in a position of dependency such as those living in residential care. In the Northern Territory there is a mandatory obligation to report family violence. If the alleged perpetrator is a healthcare practitioner, there are reporting obligations to AHPRA. If a healthcare professional is uncertain as to their obligations, they should seek the advice of their indemnifier.
Patients who do not access the criminal justice pathway and contact police may nevertheless wish to access other sources of justice and report accordingly. Some people may choose to access civil justice options. Some may seek redress through their manager or human resources department for forms of sexual violence such as harassment that occur in the workplace. There are specialist and pilot programs in restorative justice available which seek to address the harms experienced in the form of a facilitated roundtable dialogue.
Advice should be sought from specialist referral services with knowledge of options in the relevant jurisdiction, as applied to the particular circumstances of the case.
These are explored in depth in Monash University’s Responding to Sexual Violence in Adults program which is delivered by the Department of Forensic Medicine and consortia partner, the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) at no cost to participants.
The training is funded by the Commonwealth Department of Social Services under the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022-2032. It equips healthcare professionals with skills to recognise and respond appropriately to adult disclosures of sexual violence.
For more information, eligibility requirements, or to register your interest please see the following link: https://www.monash.edu/medicine/sphpm/study/professional-education/responding-to-sexual-violence
Maaike is a Forensic Physician at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine where she is also the Clinical Lead for Family Violence. She is a Fellow of the Faculty of Clinical Forensic Medicine (RCPA) and has a Masters in Forensic Medicine (Monash). Maaike is also an Adjunct Senior Lecturer in the Department of Forensic Medicine, Monash University.