Opinion | What’s behind area’s rising crime statistics

The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research disclosed last week that crime across most of NSW had remained stable or fallen over the past two years. The bad news, particularly for Newcastle, is that most major crimes are increasing in the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie Statistical Area.

This region is showing significant increases in four of the 17 major offences: motor vehicle theft (up 15.9 per cent), steal from motor vehicle (up 10.1 per cent), steal from retail store (up 17.8 per cent), and malicious damage to property (up 8.2 per cent).

Newcastle itself, however, has significant increases in five major offences including sexual assault (up 13.1 per cent) and indecent assault (up 26.9 per cent).

Why has there been such increases in [reported] sex crimes?

It should be emphasised that there has been an increase in the reporting of such crimes, not necessarily that more crimes of this nature have been committed. No one would know whether or not there has been an actual rise in this type of offending, or whether victims are now more likely to make a complaint to police. There are many and varying reasons as to the increases, but few would argue with the following:

  1. The work of the Child Abuse Royal Commission since it started in 2013 and particularly, extensive media coverage of it;
  2. Extensive media coverage of sex crimes in general and domestic violence;
  3. Gradual but significant changes to laws governing the manner in which sex trials are run and dealing with the non-admissibility of evidence that used to be taken for granted and would be put before the jury.

Although the Child Abuse Royal Commission has particularly focused on systemic child abuse, there could not be any doubt that victims of sexual abuse, hearing the heart-breaking stories of survivors and the exposure of sex crimes, in many cases committed many decades ago, would have encouraged victims to find the strength to make a complaint to police.

The media coverage of the Royal Commission, appropriately covered with sympathy and empathy for the survivors and outrage against the perpetrators and institutions that allowed abuse, would also have gone a long way towards giving victims the strength to come forward.

One ought not underestimate the link between domestic violence (with all its variables) and its continued calling out in the media and social media and victims of sex crimes being fortified with the belief that the community is behind them and that “enough is enough”.

Lastly, it is one thing for a victim to make a complaint to police and entirely another for them to tell police and prosecutors that she or he is prepared to stare down their attacker, to see him (usually a him) charged and be prepared to give evidence against him. Significant changes to laws over recent years and media coverage of them, would have emboldened victims to not only report the crime but to see the arduous proceedings through to the end. These changes include:

  •  Significant difficulties for the defence to access confidential counselling notes of the victim, let alone getting any part of the notes admitted into evidence;
  • Significant difficulties for the defence to cross examine the victim about his or her sexual history, even if relevant to the alleged offence;
  • The initial complaint to police by a child victim is recorded on a DVD by police and generally, that DVD becomes the child’s evidence as to the alleged offence;
  • The child complainant is assisted by “the Children’s Champion” in readiness for cross examination;
  •  A report is prepared on behalf of the child complainant informing lawyers [and judges] of terms and expressions to avoid, having regard to the child’s level of maturity and understanding;
  • The cross examination of the child complainant is recorded before the jury is empaneled and later played back to the jury.

Manny Conditsis is a Director at Conditsis Lawyers, a senior trial advocate and accredited specialist in Criminal Law. 

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