Links between Parliament House's cultural reckoning and increased demand on Canberra's sexual assault victim services will be examined by the ACT government's new women's violence taskforce.
ACT Minister for Women Yvette Berry said anecdotal evidence suggested pressure on already-stretched local services had grown since former political staffer Brittany Higgins in February revealed her alleged rape at Parliament House.
Victim support services confirmed demand had risen, although they said the storm which had recently engulfed federal politics was just one of the events which had contributed to the rise.
The revelations about the alleged rape of Ms Higgins by a colleague in 2019 sparked a national outcry and led to intense public scrutiny on the treatment of women in politics.
Ms Berry said a new sexual violence prevention working group she announced last month, which includes representatives from the community, service sector and unions, would look at the impact the crisis on the Hill was having on local providers.
She has offered to provide any findings to sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins, who was tasked with reviewing Parliament's workplace culture after the Higgins allegations were made public.
Ms Berry also raised the issue with her federal counterparts Marise Payne and Anne Ruston at a meeting last week.
"Some of the work that we will consider is: what is the demand for [local victim support services] from what sounds like a pretty horrible workplace at Parliament House - what is the pressure that is causing on our services?" Ms Berry told The Canberra Times.
"People talk about the Canberra bubble - this is probably an example of the Canberra bubble that we don't really want to see ... the kind of pressure that a workplace like the Federal Parliament provides.
"We just don't properly understand it [the link] yet, but it has to make sense that that is the case and it is certainly what we've been hearing."
The working group is scheduled to hold its first meeting on April 28.
Canberra Rape Crisis Centre chief executive Chrystina Stanford said demand on sexual assault services had increased in the past 12 months, as it had done in previous years.
Domestic Violence Crisis Service client services director Dearne Weaver said demand in January and February was up 16 per cent on the same period in 2020.
Ms Stanford listed a number of events which had contributed to the spike, including what she termed the "Parliament House disclosures", the #MeToo movement, the coronavirus lockdowns and separate recent royal commissions which have shone the spotlight on abuse of children, the elderly and disabled.
A new focus on sexual assault at universities and the Defence Force was also a factor, she said.
"Wherever there is a news headline about sexual violence, there is greater demand on sexual assault services," she said.
"People exposed to the media can often be triggered or reach out for support when they hear the issue spoken about - or someone else's story that touches them or acts as a prompt to seek help."
ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan last week said the extra demand on services had not translated to an increase in reports of sexual assault to police.
An average of 35 reports per month were made to police in the first three months of the year, which Deputy Commissioner Gaughan said was "statistically consistent" with previous years.
Ms Stanford said a number of barriers hindered survivors from reporting to police or telling another person what had happened, including feelings of shame, self-blame and fear they would not be believed.
Survivors most commonly make reports to police in an attempt to prevent others being harmed. In contrast, victims contacted sexual assault services to seek support, she said.
"[Fewer] reports speak to backward movement in culture and attitudes, rather than only an individual deciding to not pursue a report," she said.
"If the community surrounding the victim does not support them when they try and speak, less people will be able to speak - why would they, on top of everything else they are trying to manage?"
The Canberra Timeslast month reported sexual assault trials and conviction rates had plummeted over the past five years, despite an increase in reports to victim services and police.
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