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Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party fights for stalking reforms

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party has proposed 43 reforms to Victoria’s stalking laws, policing framework and victim support in a submission to the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s stalking inquiry.

The DHJP believes flaws in current legislation and its interpretation undermine the seriousness of stalking.

It asks the VLRC to consider proactive reforms modelled on The Netherlands’ move in 2015 to strengthen police awareness of stalking risks and set up a data-driven system to trigger offender alerts.

The Dutch policing framework includes:

  • Continued education and training for all police officers in stalking behaviours, ‘red flags’ and actions.
  • An algorithm-based checking system designed to ensure no stalking cases are missed or misidentified. This digital trawl of all police information management systems flags cases logged in the previous 24 hours for certain words and phrases. The cross-referenced data is then checked by an officer who assesses whether any cases are stalking-related but may not have been marked as such when logged.
  • A Screening Assessment for Stalking and Harassment (SASH) tool refined by Australian, British and Swedish clinicians and researchers that weighs victim and stalker risks of persistent, escalating and violent stalking.
  • An enhanced communication and co-operation case management system where a single police officer case-manages an allegation to completion, and is responsible for notifying agencies that should be involved, such as child protection services.

The DHJP also recommends the immediate expansion of Victoria’s fledgling Victims’ Legal Service that was funded in the 2021-22 State Budget as a result of its MPs’ advocacy.

The party says an expanded service should provide information, advice and support for victim-survivors of stalking throughout the criminal trial process.

Other recommendations in the submission include:

  • Separating personal safety intervention orders (PSIOs) into different streams, including one specifically for stalking cases.
  • Increasing the maximum penalty for stalking offenders.
  • Allowing stalkers’ previous behaviours to be admissible in court, particularly pre-sentence reports.
  • If adopted, naming these changes ‘Celeste’s Law’ in memory of Celeste Manno, a young Victorian who was brutally murdered, allegedly by an ex-work colleague, in November 2020.

The full submission will be available online. Submissions to the inquiry close on August 17.

Tania Maxwell MP:

Stalking crimes often affect their victims in unimaginable ways.

An offender will watch their victim’s every move, and victims have to change their lifestyle and make countless sacrifices to stay safe, including installing cameras or moving house. Stalking can change the lives of victim-survivors forever.

Having worked with many victim-survivors of stalking crimes, it’s obvious that our current system isn’t working and that the reporting and judicial processes can often be as traumatising as the crimes themselves.

I thank the VLRC for its work and hope it considers implementing our party’s recommendations.

Stuart Grimley MP:

We are extremely proud of this submission, which goes some way in honouring the victim-survivors of stalking we have worked with and those who aren’t here to contribute.

We’re grateful our Victims Legal Service was partially funded, though it is very limited in the services it can currently provide. Supports and legal advice for stalking victim-survivors should be part of the future expansion of the service.

We hope that the VLRC will look closely at these recommendations to ensure our system responds adequately – and proactively – to stalking crime in the future.

Law Reform Commission stalking inquiry open for submissions

Tania Maxwell MP has encouraged victim-survivors of stalking to make a submission to the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s (VLRC) review of what she calls an insidious crime.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said the inquiry had been established following the horrific murder of Celeste Manno in Mernda in November, last year.

“I join victim-survivors and their families in welcoming the opening of submissions and the release of the VLRC’s consultation paper for its stalking inquiry,” Ms Maxwell said.

“On December 9, last year, I stood on the steps of Victoria’s Parliament with Celeste’s mother, Aggie Di Mauro, and brother, Alessandro Manno, to call for urgent changes to the management of intervention orders.

“I worked closely with Ms Di Mauro to initiate this inquiry and we want to see serious consequences for people who commit stalking offences.”

Since Celeste Manno’s death, a change.org petition calling for stringent laws against stalking has been signed by more than 32,000 people.

In the year to March 2021, the Victorian Crime Statistics Agency recorded 14,100 stalking and harassment offences, of which 2300 (16 per cent) were in Northern Victoria.

Ms Maxwell said the community was demanding change to stop the horror for victims and their families.

“I speak regularly with victim-survivors and understand the lasting impact that this insidious crime leaves on their lives,” she said.

“We need to ensure perpetrators are swiftly identified and interventions are put in place to curb their behaviour much earlier to prevent further tragedies.

“I hope this inquiry will put the needs of victims at the forefront and I encourage people to make a submission and share their views on what changes are necessary to improve community safety and hold offenders to account.”

The VLRC has released a consultation paper and submissions are open until August 5. The VLRC will then prepare an interim report by the end of the year, and a final report by June 30, 2022.

Information about the review is available at https://www.lawreform.vic.gov.au/projects/stalking/stalking-terms-reference

Image: BBC

Sexual assault in universities

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) May 26, 2021: (12:00)

Universities are a hot topic today.

My question is to the Minister for Higher Education, Ms Tierney. It follows journalist Richard Ferguson’s front-page story in the Weekend Australian on 21 May highlighting multiple very serious failures in the University of Queensland’s responses to complaints from students about incidents of stalking and sexual assault committed by someone employed by the university.

Minister, in the wake of these very disturbing revelations, have you asked or would you ask for any form of audit or even an updated assessment of the robustness of the current structures and processes for the reporting and investigation of stalking and sexual misconduct allegations within Victorian universities?

Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (12:01): 

Obviously universities do have their own processes. Of course that does not stop anyone from also reporting incidents to police. There are also support services on campuses to provide counselling and other support mechanisms to victims.

It does not matter whether you are male, female or whatever, the fact of the matter is that there are supports there. But, Ms Maxwell, I do thank you for this question, because it has raised a discussion particularly in my office about whether there is suitable regulation.

I can inform you that the University of Melbourne is undertaking a study at the moment and has written to all staff and students asking for their input. It is my intention once I receive that report to then have a discussion with the vice-chancellors at the vice-chancellors forum about what else might need to be done in this area, so it is a very active topic. It is active in the media, but it is very active in terms of the discussions that are happening with key stakeholders in the sector.

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (12:03):

Thank you, Minister.

Minister, there has been a considerable amount of anger about the University of Melbourne’s response to recent incidents of sexual assault and harassment. These include its handling of the allegations of serious sexual misconduct upheld in 2019 against its former dean of science Peter Rathjen, who I have mentioned previously in this place. Information about Rathjen’s offending was allegedly not even passed on to the University of Adelaide, where he was vice-chancellor before later leaving the position in disgrace following further sexual misconduct.

So I ask: during this term of Parliament has the Victorian government asked the University of Melbourne to improve its handling of sexual misconduct complaints, including by directing it to comprehensively and publicly respond to the allegations that it failed to disclose the findings against Rathjen to the University of Adelaide?

Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (12:03):

Obviously the safety of students is absolutely paramount, whether they be on university councils, in schools, at TAFEs, wherever—absolutely.

I do have a great personal interest in this area, Ms Maxwell, as you might know, but the fact of the matter is that in terms of my powers, they do not go to operational matters as such. But that is why I am taking a particularly keen interest in the work that the University of Melbourne is undertaking at the moment, and as I said, I look forward to having a wider discussion with the university community about what else can be done and what things might be able to be tightened so that the things that have happened in Queensland and elsewhere cannot happen again.