‘If I’d had long hair and worn a skirt those police might have taken me seriously that night’

Victims of sexual violence have been laughed at by police, turned away and told they’re not the kind of woman who gets assaulted.

One survivor said her attackers were predators but I’m not sure what excuse the Queensland Police has for their actions.

And when a courageous victim came forward to police, very few charges resulted in conviction, a taskforce into sexual violence found.

In fact, most sexual violence cases were never reported, the state’s Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce found.

Recent submissions to the taskforce revealed the despair felt by many sexual assault victims navigating Queensland’s criminal justice system.

In one of the more than 120 submissions from people with lived experience of sexual violence, a woman explained while police could see a pattern with abusers, they wait till a woman dies – or almost dies – before they do anything or take it seriously.

I was even told once by a police officer that I have to ‘wait for him to attack me again’ before they could pursue something.

Just disgusting. Why am I believed more dead than I am alive? Why should I have to die before he gets truly punished?

The woman explained that in Queensland courts she felt the victim was the one who had her credibility questioned.

I am the one whose character is up for criticism, I am the one who essentially is called a liar by the defence. I have to worry about what colour I wear, how my clothes will hug my body, will my tattoos show, do I look like a good girl, do I cry enough, do I seem cold, am I the perfect victim?

And if not, then no one will believe me.

Also, I believe that although it is a civil matter, cumulative DVOs across different partners should matter and should be considered. My abuser had two DVOs to his name. Then he almost killed me.

Another woman said her experience with the justice system was actually worse than the assault itself.

Those men were predators, but I’m not sure what excuse the Queensland Police has for their actions, she said.

Another submission, from a woman who identified as queer, detailed how in her early 20s she was assaulted outside a major sporting event and sought help from two male officers, who looked her up and down.

I hadn’t been drinking so I thought it was strange until one of the officers stated that I ‘wasn’t the kind of woman who gets assaulted’, she said.

I am queer, and although female, present more masculine. I have short hair and at the time was wearing shorts and a T-shirt. They wouldn’t listen to me, wouldn’t let me lodge a report, in their words [there was] ‘nothing they could do’ all because I’m the wrong type of woman.

And every time I hear in the news or social media of people asking ‘Why didn’t you report it to the police’, my anger is palpable. I tried. I’ve come to accept that the police cannot protect me, nor will they be there for me after a crime.

But to think, if I’d had long hair and worn a skirt those police officers might have taken me seriously that night.

In another submission, a woman explained she was 15 when she was turned away and denied from giving a statement at a police station.

Taskforce chair Margaret McMurdo said the criminal justice process was far too slow, confusing and traumatising for many victims, who would find it too much and give up.

Many feel that these experiences of abuse and trauma are not adequately considered across the criminal justice system.

The inadequacy of the public health system was also criticised, with many patients or clients neglected, particularly those with PTSD.

If it wasn’t for the fact that I receive private treatment in a private hospital and with private psychiatrists, I would be dead, one submission read.

To live in the body of a survivor is to never be able to leave the scene of the crime – and I cannot forget that I live here.

The taskforce also released the submission from a female prisoner, who detailed across a 100-point document what she saw as failings of the corrective services system, particularly with mental health support, reporting assaults, and basic health requirements.

The woman said she had been sexually assaulted several times in her 20 months in prison, and neither of those events led to consequences for her attacker.

Instead, in both situations, the officers said they did not believe me because I had previously been seen hanging out socially and having fun with my attackers, therefore, they told me they believed that I simply regretted breaking the rules, and I was told if it happened again, I would be breached and lose privileges.

She said she had sought help from officers when she realised she was suicidal.

I had already begun self-harming. The officers noted my behaviour had curbed and instead of referring me for support they berated me and told me to ‘suck it up and get over myself’, the woman explained.

It took over six months for any staff in the prison to acknowledge the severity of what I had gone through, and I still have not been offered any professional referrals or support now, 14 months later.

She said imprisoned mothers found it near-impossible to file welfare reports on their children being abused or neglected, and when they could the reports were not taken seriously by the department, leaving the mothers suffering worse self-esteem.

She said anyone who had a health complaint had to fight and beg repeatedly for months before they are taken seriously.

For women allergic to pads and tampons, there is no substitute, and currently management does not approve the use of [menstrual] Diva cups, even at the prisoners’ own cost. Clothing is worn until it literally falls off.

The taskforce is expected to hand down its second report to the state government on June 30.

Support is available from the at 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).

Anyone requiring help or support is encouraged to call 24-hour crisis support line on 13 11 14.

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