Reforming the Legal Definition of Rape in Victoria - What Do Stakeholders Think?

  • Wendy Larcombe University of Melbourne
  • Bianca Fileborn University of Melbourne
  • Anastasia Powell RMIT
  • Nicola Henry La Trobe University
  • Natalia Hanley University of Melbourne

Abstract

Internationally and in Australia, rape law reforms in recent decades have had mixed outcomes. As a result, when the Victorian government began consulting on another round of major reforms in this area, the authors designed a qualitative research project to investigate whether a proposed change to the definition of rape is likely to clarify and simplify the law, as intended. This article draws on a series of semi-structured interviews with stakeholders who have extensive practice- or research-based expertise in criminal justice processing of rape cases. We analyse their perceptions and interpretations of a proposed definition of rape, which would require an absence of ‘reasonable belief’ in consent, and explore potential impacts and limits of this reform. Given that the investigated reform proposal has now been adopted, and will come into effect in July 2015, our findings provide unique insight into stakeholders’ expectations of this latest reform of rape law in Victoria. Our findings suggest that this reform, like a number of its predecessors, may struggle to achieve its policy objectives.