Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 03 Hansard (Wednesday, 31 March 2021) . . Page.. 721 ..
speaking up has opened doors for other people to speak up, and suddenly there is a tsunami of voices. Many more are perhaps reliving some of these incredibly debilitating experiences and are not yet comfortable speaking up about them. By having this conversation, there is something quite powerful happening in this nation. I think there is a real sense of unity emerging. Some people have a bit of a way to go but, bit by bit, we are getting there and shining a light on this, however difficult it might be for many and, indeed, all of us. It is just so important, but I do want to acknowledge that this has been a particularly dark period for many people.
In speaking today and in noting the support and the services that are available, I wanted to shine a light on Victim Support ACT and how it works and perhaps amplify its services. But I also want to talk about what they mean for the community. For those who may not know, Victim Support ACT provides services to victims of crime in the ACT to promote their recovery and continued participation in the social, economic and cultural life of the community. This is through a range of services, including free counselling and other therapeutic services. That is provided by professional, trained counsellors, psychologists and social workers. It includes financial assistance, and this is often urgent financial assistance to victims of crime, as well as economic loss and recognition payments to victims too.
There is a court support program which provides trained and highly skilled volunteers who support a victim’s engagement in the criminal justice system. There are culturally responsive services and specialist staff who are able to engage highly responsively with people living with disabilities who have been affected by crime. Importantly, there is an intermediary program to assist victims who have communication difficulties, including young children, to communicate their evidence to police, lawyers and in courtrooms so that they are able to communicate evidence of crimes perpetrated against them when they engage in the justice system. Finally, there is advocacy, to ensure that victims’ rights are protected during their engagement with criminal justice agencies, in line with the ACT’s new charter of victims’ rights which, I note, is the most comprehensive legislated set of rights for victims of crime in Australia.
Victims of crime in the ACT have approached Victim Support ACT in unprecedented numbers recently, with recent years being the busiest. The surge in demand reflects community confidence in its ability to ably assist victims of violent crimes such as sexual assault, particularly given the tailored approach that is provided. Sexual assault and family violence comprised over half of the offences reported by Victim Support ACT’s clients in the 2019-20 financial year. Victim Support brokers counselling and other therapeutic services for eligible victims of violent crimes. Support is provided by professionals such as psychologists, counsellors, therapists, social workers and educational tutors.
In the last financial year, over 2,000 victims of crime were provided with assistance, including information and referrals to other appropriate services and support. COVID-19 significantly increased demand, with a 13 per cent increase in clients in April 2020. This also included a 130 per cent increase in new family violence matters and a 50 per cent increase in new sexual assault matters in June alone, compared to