Women’s task force to deliver findings

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The final report from a task force exploring how sexual assault survivors are treated by the Queensland criminal justice system will be released on Friday.

The release of the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce’s report comes days after the findings of an inquest into the devastating murders of Hannah Clarke and her three children at the hands of her husband, Rowan Baxter.

Among her recommendations, Coroner Jane Bentley called for specialist domestic violence police officers “as a matter of urgency”.

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She also urged the creation of a multi-disciplinary specialist domestic violence police station housing detectives, a support worker, a lawyer to advise police and victims, and representatives from the departments of child safety, housing and health.

The coroner’s findings closely align with the review undertaken by the task force, Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman says.

Headed by former Court of Appeal president Margaret McMurdo, the task force has been inundated with hundreds of submissions from victims, offenders, academics and community groups.

“We have heard at every turn there are roadblocks to successful outcomes for sexual violence victims,” Ms McMurdo said.

“Most don’t report what has happened, and for the brave few who do they often feel they are not taken seriously, or treated as if they are the suspect and blamed and disbelieved.

“For far too many, the criminal justice process is slow, confusing and re-traumatising – many victims find it too much and give up.”

The task force said it found women and girls who are charged with criminal offences are almost all victims of domestic and family, sexual or other physical violence – or in many cases all three.

On the eve of the final report’s release, Ms Fentiman said the system had to change to protect those who needed it most.

“We know that we must do better,” she said.

“But there is so much work already under way to make our system more trauma-informed, to make sure we are acting earlier on those red flags – before more blue police tape surrounds another family home.”

The task force was launched in March 2021, with its first report, Hear her voice, making 89 recommendations, including a new criminal offence of coercive control.

The Queensland government accepted the raft of recommendations, committing to introducing the legislation by the end of 2023.

“I’m really pleased that our government has accepted all of the recommendations from the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce, including how we bring everyone together to act earlier to keep women safe,” Ms Fentiman said.

Coercive control includes isolating a partner from family and friends, monitoring their movements, controlling their access to money, and psychological and emotional manipulation.

That form of abuse disproportionately affects women.

The government has also allocated $363 million to expand domestic violence courts, boost support services, plan a First Nations strategy and fund perpetrator programs “to change men’s behaviour”.

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