New Ministry of Justice report on sexual violence and attrition in the criminal justice system

Tue 03 Dec 2019

The Ministry of Justice has published a new report that looks at the experience of sexual violence victims, and the criminal justice outcomes when sexual violence is reported to Police.

The report, Attrition and Progression: Reported Sexual Violence Victimisations in the Criminal Justice System (2019), analysed 23,739 sexual violence victimisations reported to Police between July 2014 and June 2018.

This research looked at how many reported victimisations progressed through the justice system to conviction and how long it takes for cases to progress through the system. The researchers also looked at whether there were differences for children and young people, adults reporting historic childhood offences, different offence types, Māori, and different perpetrator relationship types.

The researchers found over the four years only 31% of cases reported to Police resulted in court action for the perpetrator, 11% resulted in a conviction and 6% resulted in a prison sentence.

The report states "This means that if only 10% of sexual violence is reported to Police, for every 100 victimisations only three results in a perpetrator being charged, and only one results in a conviction."

(The New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey 2014 estimated that less than 10% of sexual violence is reported to Police.)

The Ministry of Justice says the analysis will be updated annually.

The Ministry of Justice has also published a Question and Answer document and a diagram that shows progress of sexual violence cases in the criminal justice system.

Update: In March 2023, the Ministry of Justice published the follow up report, Attrition and progression of reported sexual violence victimisations in the criminal justice system 2017 to 2022 - annual monitoring report. It describes the outcomes that victims of sexual violence experience through the criminal justice process. This includes both trial and conviction outcomes, and outcomes associated with the Police investigation process prior to any charges being filed. The report is intended to be published annually, providing regular monitoring over time. 


Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice on Sexual and Domestic Violence Issues Jan Logie said:

"This report does not make for happy reading, but it is crucial that we have good data to measure our progress against.

We can already see positive results, with the changes Police have made to the way they investigate sexual assaults reflected in a 34% increase in the number of investigations resulting in court action just in the last year, and a substantial decrease in the proportion of victimisations not classed as a crime. 

But there is still a very long way to go. This Government is committed to making progress on these long-term challenges. We are improving court facilities, providing psycho-social support for complainants, the Solicitor-General has issued new prosecution guidelines, and later this year will introduce legislation to address long-standing issues with our sexual violence laws."

Te Ohaakii a Hine - National Network Ending Sexual Violence Together (TOAH-NNEST) welcomed the report saying it depicts some of the difficulties experienced by New Zealanders who report sexual violence and "... demonstrates a willingness to address the problems and provides a much needed baseline from which progress can be tracked over time."

TOAH-NNEST went on to share findings from a recent consultation with their member agencies. They identified areas where the current criminal justice system is not working for victims/survivors:

  • "It is not effective in holding those who have caused harm to account.
  • The criminal justice system does not prioritise the safety and other needs of children
  • The Family Court does not prioritise the safety and other needs of children
  • Victims/survivors feel incidental to the trial process, which replicates the dynamics of the sexual violence
  • Victims/survivors can be further traumatised by the trial process
  • No amends are made to the victim/survivor
  • No resolutions are made to the relationships destroyed by sexual violence
  • Most victims/survivors want the person who harmed them to not do it to anyone else, but most of those convicted of sexual offences do not get appropriate treatment."

In partnership with its members TOAH-NNEST makes the following recommendations:

"1. Expand support and service provision of Kaupapa Māori services for victims throughout the criminal justice system.

a. The current criminal justice system lacks understanding of the needs of Māori survivors of sexual violence and the particular kinds of trauma that this harm engenders when coupled with the impacts of colonisation. Currently, the adversarial process does not work well for Māori victims/survivors of sexual violence as the environment can be unfamiliar and does not accommodate whānau or tikanga.

2. Prioritise the safety and other needs of children who have been sexually abused in the Criminal Justice System and the Family Court.

a. The criminal justice process is often inappropriate for children as its primary focus is on the needs of adults. For example, the way that evidence is tested by confrontational questioning, the impersonality of the process, the time delays, the lack of support available from a parent if they are also a witness, the lack of convictions which result and the short sentences without treatment which result, are all in need of reform.

3. Increase access to treatment and support families.

a. Relationships within families, whanau and friendship groups can be destroyed by sexual violence and its path through the criminal justice system. Court processes and low conviction rates encourage a culture of denial rather than responsibility taking.

4. Improvement of rights for victims/survivors to improve justice outcomes and avoid replication of the dynamics of the sexual violence.

a. The rights and needs of the person who caused harm are consistently prioritised over the rights and needs of the person who was harmed.

5. Improve trial process.

a. The adversarial process (and jury system) places undue pressure on victims/survivors, who – unlike the defendant – do not have enforceable trial rights enshrined within legislation. Concomitant with such lack of agency is the frequent experience of themselves being “put on trial” for credibility, rather than the actions of the accused perpetrator. This process is inappropriate and frequently traumatising for criminal trials for sexual offences, especially due to the operation of rape myth acceptance.

6. Rape myth acceptance removed from the court process.

a. Clarification of the nature of consent.

7. Criminal justice process to be trauma informed.

a. Training of all of those involved in the system, including content regarding rape myth, trauma and appropriate language to use when interacting with victims/survivors of sexual violence.

8. Further improvements to police practice.

a. Establish a system outside of the IPCA, for review of police charging decisions in sexual violence cases.

b. Increase specialisation and training of police regarding sexual violence victimisation and improved implementation and training behind the Adult Sexual Assault Investigation Policy."

For other responses from the sexual violence sector see the media below.

Related research

Previous research on attrition on sexual violence in the criminal justice system was carried out in 2009:

Responding to sexual violence: Attrition in the New Zealand criminal justice system
by Sue Triggs, Elaine Mossman, Jan Jordan, and Venezia Kingi
Wellington: Ministry of Women's Affairs, 2009

Other recent research on sexual violence and the criminal justice system includes:

Evaluation of the Sexual Violence Court Pilot
by Allison, Sue | Boyer, Tania | Gravitas Research and Strategy Limited.
Wellington: Gravitas Research and Strategy Limited, 2019

Improving the justice response to victims of sexual violence: Victims' experiences
by Boyer, Tania | Allison, Sue | Creagh, Helen | Gravitas Research and Strategy.
Wellington: Ministry of Justice, 2018

Related news

The Ministry of Justice is asking the public to give quick brief feedback about their opinions on the criminal justice system and how it could be improved. It takes about 5 to 10 minutes to complete the online survey with several multiple-choice questions. This builds on the justice reform work, Hāpaitia te Oranga Tangata – Safe and Effective Justice.

The Government has introduced the Sexual Violence Legislation Bill to improve the process and experiences for victims of sexual violence in the courts and justice system. Submissions are open on this legislation until 31 January 2020.

The Ministry of Justice has released resources from the New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey (NZCVS).

Related event

On Wednesday 26 February 2020, from 7pm - 8pm, Professor Elisabeth McDonald will present a public talk at the University of Canterbury, A cross-examination of rape myths. Registration is not yet open - check back or to stay informed about the lecture join the UC Connect mailing list.

The lecture will also mark the online launch of the researchers’ Open Access book, Rape myths as barriers to fair trial process: Comparing adult rape trials with those in the Aotearoa Sexual Violence Court Pilot, published by Canterbury University Press, with research and writing contributions from Paulette Benton-Greig, Rachel Souness and Sandra Dickson.

Related media

Research Facilitates Positive Change For ‘brutal Old Days’ Of Rape Trials, Press Release: University of Canterbury, Scoop, 26.02.2020

Nicola Gavey: Grace Millane’s murder trial shows social attitudes continue to minimise gendered violence, The Conversation, 28.11.2019

Defending the Indefensible? On the Grace Millane trial and victim blaming, The Spinoff, 25.11.2019

Why victims’ sexual history is irrelevant, Newsroom, 23.11.2019

The need to address sexual violence, Otago Daily Times, 23.11.2019

A guilty verdict brings justice for Grace Millane. For her sake, for all our sakes, let’s now change how we talk about blame, The Spinoff, 22.11.2019

15-year-old sexual assault victim speaks out to stop silent suffering, Stuff, 09.11.2019

11 percent of reported sexual violence cases end in conviction - report, RNZ, 01.11.2019

Majority of sexual violence incidents reported to police are children or young people, Stuff, 01.11.2019

Only 6 per cent of sexual violence cases reported to Police end in jail: Major Government study, NZ Herald, 01.11.2019

'Good start' to address their sexual violence response, Press Release: National Council of Women, Scoop, 01.11.2019

Family harm investigations on the rise, police figures show, Stuff, 23.09.2019

Image: Pexels

More news articles about GovernmentResearch