NSW police have joined with the woman behind an online petition that gathered thousands of stories of sexual assault to make it easier for survivors to come forward.
The state crime command’s child abuse and sex crimes squad launched Operation Vest in response to the deluge of reports revealed in the past few weeks, many from former attendees of Sydney private schools.
The petition highlights the stories to call for consent education to be included in the NSW curriculum and law reform to define sexual consent as enthusiastic consent.
The new police operation recognises the barriers that stop many sexual assault victims from reporting their attacks, which can include embarrassment and concerns about repercussions, confidentiality and being believed.
In addition to the standard criminal complaints route, police are providing another option for victims to make an anonymous, informal complaint which will only be acted on if the alleged offender repeats their actions or is the subject of a formal complaint.
“We must acknowledge the courage it takes victims of sexual violence to come forward and tell their stories,” child abuse and sex crimes squad commander Detective Superintendent Stacey Maloney said.
“Re-telling your story means reliving your trauma, and NSW Police are committed to a framework that supports a victim’s pursuit for justice but also ensures they have access to services that provide the appropriate support.
“We want you to know that if you share your story with us, we will listen to you and if you decide to pursue legal action, immediately or anytime thereafter, we will stand by your side through that process.”
On Instagram, Ms Contos said the idea was to create an environment in which it was normal to report sexual assault and emphasise the need for reform.
“No consequences will be had for historical perpetrators reported through SARO, unless they do it again (or you choose to report formally in the future),” she said.
“This helps us look toward a better Australia, and will cause those who think they may have been perpetrators, to be conscious of their actions going forward.”
Ms Contos said the program also had the support and input of consent educator Dr Joy Townsend.
Police said in a statement the “preferred” formal options for reporting sexual assault included calling triple zero, phoning or attending a police station and calling Crime Stoppers.
“This course of action may lead to a criminal investigation if you choose to proceed with the matter,” the release said.
“NSW Police will not pursue a criminal investigation through to the court process without gaining your permission by way of a formal statement.”