Recently I listened to a 6-episode podcast called Unspeakable. It’s about child sexual abuse and unusually for a podcast, it was made by the Victorian police. Each episode covers a different aspect of reporting child sexual abuse – talking to the cops, what an investigation involves, choosing the right legal path for the situation.
What makes it interesting is Victoria has an innovative system which puts the victims’ needs first. They start with SOCITs, or Sexual Offenses and Child Abuse Investigation Teams. These are made up of people with specialist training in dealing with these crimes. There are also Multi-Disciplinary Centres which have plain clothes police, psychologists, and medical staff all in one discreet building which is nowhere near a police station. If you go to one, you don’t have to start out by making a police report – you can just chat to people to see how you feel about it before anything is decided.
Every episode begins with a gentle reminder to only listen if you’re in an emotionally safe place or have support with you. They encourage you to take breaks if you need them. And at the end of each episode there are contact details if you decide you want to report something. Given that the subject might bring up long-ignored memories, I think this is very thoughtful. I found some of the stories heartbreaking, I can only imagine how someone with personal experience of similar things might feel.
The Victorian Police made the podcast to encourage people who might be thinking of reporting a sexual assault, whether it was recent or from many years ago. They wanted the public to be able to find out about the SOCIT service in a low-pressure way, and to explain how their methods are different from how things used to be.
Anyone who reads about crime in the news will have heard some horror stories about police not taking sexual assault reports seriously. I’m sure Victoria has had its fair share of dismissive and paternalistic incidents. So its good that they’re not only improving but letting people know things have changed for the better. Unspeakable won a public relations award, so I think it must be doing a good job of getting the word out.
I hope Unspeakable gives victims of sexual assault in Victoria more confidence that they’ll be treated with the respect they deserve. But I also think it does a great job of explaining how all police organisations should be dealing with these crimes. I’d love to see police and victims’ advocacy groups in other parts of Australia learn from it and lift their standards too.
A quick search on reporting sexual abuse in other states showed that the rest of Australia directs you to your local police station, or Crimestoppers. That’s fine for a burglary or a bit of argy-bargy outside your local pub. But sexual abuse (particularly of children) needs specialist detectives, not just whover’s taking the shift on front desk that day.
If you or someone you know works with sexual assault victims elsewhere in Australia, I highly recommend giving Unspeakable a listen to see how a fully supportive police service could be organised. It’s available on Soundcloud and iTunes – I couldn’t find any transcripts but I hope they’re available soon.