Grounds for Hope and Disappointment: Victims’/Survivors’ Perceptions of South Australia Police Responses to Rape

Author: Katherine Jane McLachlan

McLachlan, Katherine Jane, 2007 Grounds for Hope and Disappointment: Victims’/Survivors’ Perceptions of South Australia Police Responses to Rape, Flinders University, Flinders Law School

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Internationally, there have been few studies examining the attitudes of people who have been raped towards police (Jordan, 2001a; Lievore, 2005; Temkin, 1997, 1999). Little research in Australia (particularly South Australia) has examined the experiences of victims/survivors of rape with police. Existing data do show that women who have been raped rarely report assaults to police. This has been attributed by researchers to a range of reasons, both personal and systemic, including the influence of stereotypes and myths about rape on victims’/survivors’ decision-making. Rape myths often reflect community attitudes, social norms and police responses. For example, victims/survivors may blame themselves and also expect police will blame or disbelieve them. Such expectations (or subsequent experiences) of negative police responses undermine victims’/survivors’ faith in police. However, this is not the whole story. In reality, police responses to rape are complex and inconsistent, influenced by both individual and organisational factors. I initiated this study to explore victims’/survivors’ expectations of, and experiences with, police in a transparent and accessible forum. Based on semi-structured, in-depth interviews with 11 women who had been raped in South Australia, my findings illustrated the diversity of South Australia Police responses to victims/survivors of rape and suggested that South Australia Police practices were similar to those of other Australian and English-speaking jurisdictions. Overall, interactions with South Australia Police ‘simultaneously provide grounds for hope and are disappointing (Lievore, 2005: 59; emphasis added). In many cases police responses were disappointing, through service provision that was partly or wholly negative. Specific individual and organisational factors were associated with satisfactory or unsatisfactory police practices. Poor service provision was evident in individual police officers’ apathy and dismissive or disbelieving responses, and through low prioritisation and limited resourcing of sexual violence at an organisation level. However, my findings indicated that there was also much to be hopeful about when considering South Australia Police responses to rape. The participants in my study often reported exemplary service from individual officers. At the reporting and investigation stages, good practices were based on ‘procedural justice’ rather than ‘outcome justice’: characterised by strong communication, empathy and professionalism at an individual level and consistency at an organisational level.

Keywords: Police,sexual assault,Victims/Survivors,perceptions,rape,police responses,rape victims,rape survivors,sexual crime

Subject: Law thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2007
School: Flinders Law School
Supervisor: Professor Mark Israel, Dr Mary Heath