Sex consent laws must be strengthened to help police put more offenders in jail, NSW’s top cop has told a parliamentary committee.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller’s comments come as the force weathers criticism over its handling of a rape allegation against federal Attorney-General Christian Porter and after thousands of current or former NSW schoolgirls went public with stories of sexual assault.
Both cases prompted discussions around whether the police can do more, Mr Fuller told a budget estimates hearing on Friday.
Police are only able to proceed on 10 per cent of sexual assault complaints received, and only 10 per cent of those are successfully prosecuted, he said.
Current consent laws are a barrier to more successful prosecutions.
“You (can) have a current matter, a current victim, you have forensic evidence, you have recency, but this issue of consent is one that is a struggle for juries, judges and magistrates,” Mr Fuller said.
“There needs to be a line drawn in the sand in terms of what consent is and I think it needs to be a better criminal definition around that.”
Mr Fuller also confirmed he’d personally support the passage of laws requiring sexual partners to seek “positive” consent.
He said better education around consent, particularly of young men, was desperately needed.
NSW Police last week met with education leaders to discuss the issue, brought to light by a petition for schools to teach students about consent sooner.
The petition of nearly 28,000 signatures was started by former Kambala School student Chanel Contos, and is accompanied by thousands of harrowing stories of sexual assault suffered by students – mostly from private, single-sex schools across Sydney.
NSW Police Minister David Elliott admitted he had not read the stories in the petition but said it was clear “society has failed” and welcomed a debate on consent.
But Mr Elliott said parents were also dropping the ball.
“The first call for me as the police minister but also as a father … is parents have to teach their children respect for women,” he said.
“Parents, do your job.”
Mr Fuller also revealed the police force is reviewing the appropriateness of continuing to investigate an alleged sexual assault where the victim has withdrawn a complaint, amid the allegations surrounding Mr Porter.
The woman and Mr Porter, who is currently taking leave from his role as a federal cabinet minister, were teenagers when the alleged rape occurred in 1988.
Mr Porter firmly denied the allegations, and the woman withdrew her complaint the day before she took her own life last year.
Mr Fuller said it was police custom and practice to respect the wishes of victims, and therefore the police investigation could not continue.
“That is not (just) for the attorney-general, that is for every matter,” he said.
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