Queensland victims of sexual assault and domestic violence to be allowed to give pre-recorded evidence

<span>The Queensland attorney general, Yvette D’Ath, says sexual assault and domestic violence victims will be allowed to give pre-recorded evidence to avoid re-traumatisation.</span><span>Photograph: Jono Searle/AAP</span>
The Queensland attorney general, Yvette D’Ath, says sexual assault and domestic violence victims will be allowed to give pre-recorded evidence to avoid re-traumatisation.Photograph: Jono Searle/AAP

Queensland sexual assault and domestic violence victims will be allowed to give pre-recorded evidence to avoid the trauma of having to testify multiple times.

The proposed laws introduced to state parliament on Tuesday are part of the third tranche of recommendations by the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce.

The attorney general, Yvette D’Ath, said the bill included nine recommendations from the taskforce, including bolstering witness protection arrangements for sexual assault victims in the court process.

This includes “a requirement that the evidence of all special witnesses in sexual offence proceedings, except for the person charged, is video-recorded and stored for use in subsequent trials, such as retrials or appeals”.

“This will minimise the number of times a victim-survivor has to give evidence, reducing re-traumatisation,” D’Ath said.

She said witnesses will still be able to be recalled by a court order to give evidence but only “if they had given evidence in the ordinary way … and if it would be in the interests of justice”.

Other witness protection arrangements could include ensuring the person charged is obscured from the view of the witness, allowing the witness to give evidence remotely and having an emotional support person present.

The bill will also allow prosecutors to call an expert witness to debunk rape myths.

“Impacts of trauma on victim-survivors during and after the assault and, while being interviewed, medically examined and giving evidence, are sometimes not well understood,” D’Ath said.

“The taskforce found that the admission of expert evidence in a proceeding is likely to help address this lack of understanding of sexual offending.”

A new “position of authority offence” will also be introduced which outlaws sexual acts with a child aged 16 or 17 under one’s care, supervision or authority.

The laws capture teachers, health practitioners, police officers, sporting coaches, spiritual leaders and correctional officers in a position of authority over a child.

The legislation would bring Queensland into line with other jurisdictions including Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory and the ACT.

Depending on the acts, an accused adult will be subject to a maximum penalty of 14 years or 10 years’ imprisonment under the new offence.

Related: ‘One chance to get this right’: Queensland domestic violence inquiry must address police culture

A child will not be able to be charged with the offence. D’Ath said this would remove “the risk of capturing and criminalising peer-to-peer interactions between children”.

“These penalties are intended to send a clear message that those adults who are entrusted with the care or supervision of young people should not be engaging in sexual interactions with them,” she said.

There will be three defences to the offence under the bill including if an accused adult and the child are lawfully married, a “similar-age” defence if the accused is no more than three years older than the child and the act did not “reasonably constitute the sexual exploitation of the child”, and if “the accused adult believed on reasonable grounds that the child was at least 18 years of age”.

Other proposed laws include bolstering the protection of sexual assault victims by extending the maximum duration of non-contact orders from two to five years and increasing maximum penalty for a breach of one from one to three years.

This would make the orders consistent with the penalty for breaches of domestic violence orders and restraining orders for unlawful stalking, intimidation, harassment or abuse.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.