Once more to the breach dear friends: the fight for women’s rights is far from over.

In recent times, one of the overriding conclusions that many disillusioned women have come to is that reforms for the rights of women have to be pushed along by the women themselves.

There’s no point in waiting for some legislative miracle from above that will abolish sexual harassment or discrimination. And no point in waiting for the legal system to reform the destructive impulse of defence barristers who bully and harangue witnesses during cross-examination in matters of rape and sexual assault.

As investigative journalist Louise Milligan points out in her book Witness, there are at least two problems with the present court system. One is that current legislation is no deterrent when it comes to the treatment of complainants. The Evidence Act, section 41 for example, already imposes a duty on the court to uphold a standard of questioning that is neither intimidating, bullying or insulting. When Milligan was herself in the stand being cross-examined by the ferocious Robert Richter QC, the court did little to mitigate Richter’s typical bullying cross-examination style. The second impediment to judicial reform is the male dominance of the legal profession. It would seem that in matters of interpreting legislation the sexual bias of the person administrating the legislation has a significant impact. Further more this male dominance is going to curtail the capacity of the legal profession to change.

That there has been a confluence of women stepping up to demand changes in the way legislation is interpreted is evidenced by Saxon Mullins who was a complainant in a protracted rape case. Utterly demoralised by the process (Mullins lost the case and her reputation) Mullins was instrumental in the state government’s 2018 decision to commission a review of sexual consent laws by the NSW Law Reform Commission. And then we have the recipient of the Australian of the Year Award, Grace Tame, who campaigned for the right of complainants in Tasmania to have a voice when speaking on the matter of sexual assault. Tame in turn inspired Brittany Higgins to come forward with her allegations of rape against a Canberra staffer with whom she worked in the office of the Minister for Defence. And so it goes. Opinion pieces and feature stories are currently rife with angry women saying enough is enough. Here we are in 21st century. Why are women still prey to men? And why is it that in matters of sex crimes the rates of convictions are still so stubbornly low?

That agitation for reform is now a reality can be seen in the call for action by the Loddon Gender Equality and Violence Prevention Consortium. The group is supporting the March 4 Justice campaign and coordinating a Bendigo event to coincide with others across Australia on March 15, Rosalind Park Piazza, 12 pm. www.march4justice.com.au

This article has been prepared for information purposes only and is not legal advice. For legal advice regarding your specific circumstances, please contact WR Law directly on (03) 5499 6131 or by email at admin@wrlaw.com.au

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