The ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner has called for an examination of Canberra's response to sexual assault and changes to encourage reporting, amid a dramatic rise in victims seeking support.
Heidi Yates said Victim Support ACT experienced a 130 per cent increase in the number of new family violence matters in June compared to the same time last year, and a 52 per cent increase in new sexual assault matters in the same period.
Support services have seen an increase in new and complex matters, but the opposite has been recorded by police.
A new report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found 2 million Australians had experienced sexual assault.
The number of assaults reported to police by women was seven times higher than men, and almost 90 per cent of women who experienced assault by a man in the past decade did not report it.
The majority of women, seven in 10, sought advice or support from friends or family, and four in 10 turned to their general practitioner or health professional. More than one-quarter of women found help via a counsellor or helpline.
Ms Yates said there was a range of reasons people often didn't come forward, many of which had been compounded by the pandemic.
She said victims may be fearful they won't have a safe place to stay, and regular face-to-face contact with friends, family and health services they might have turned to could have diminished.
"The vast majority of sexual violence is perpetrated by someone who is known to the victim and often the victim is concerned about what the impact will be if they report," she said.
Ms Yates said there was a long way for ACT support services to go, and called for an examination of where the system was going wrong.
"It's time for us to re-evaluate the status quo regarding the ACT response to sexual assault, to examine whether resourcing has kept pace with community demand, to ensure specialist support and expertise is available throughout the justice and support systems," she said.
"Here in the ACT there is still a great deal that is unknown in terms of how our service response is operating."
Ms Yates said there was currently no data to identify how vulnerable groups, including Indigenous Australians, young children or adults with communication difficulties, experienced the system.
"We need to think about how we evaluate the success or otherwise of our sexual assault response, and data is crucial to that," she said.
"At the moment there is very little known in relation ... to different victim cohorts or understanding if someone does come forward where in the process their case may fall away."
Ms Yates said adopting recommendations made by the Sexual Assault Reform Program in 2005, including giving victims the ability to choose the gender of the police officer they report to, would make reporting easier.
She said the ACT was well-placed to adopt an international model of creating a "one-stop shop" for victims of violence to report the matter and access support services.
"At present, the majority of sexual assault victims have to attend their local [police] station to report, where they may be speaking to someone who has never dealt with a sexual assault matter before," she said.
"If we had a one-stop shop where we could guarantee when a community member presented to that location, they would be engaging with someone who had specialist training in responding to these very sensitive matters and could on-the-spot link them to supports."