The attrition of sexual offences from the New South Wales criminal justice system

[7-400] Article

J Fitzgerald, “The attrition of sexual offences from the New South Wales criminal justice system” New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Attorney General’s Department of NSW, Sydney, 2006.


The purpose of the paper was to determine the stages and rate at which sexual offence cases lapse from the criminal justice system, and the characteristics of sexual offences that proceed through various stages of the criminal justice system. In NSW each year there are more than 7,000 reports of sexual and indecent assault incidents. Only about one in ten of these incidents result in someone being found guilty in court.

Most sexual offences proceed no further than the investigation stage. Only 15 per cent of sex incidents involving a child victim and 19 per cent of incidents involving an adult victim result in the initiation of criminal proceedings against a suspect. Among the small proportion of cases that do reach court; the conviction rate is low, with less than 50 per cent of defendants appearing for a sexual offence being found guilty.

Criminal proceedings are less likely to be commenced in incidents where the victim is a young child, where the incident is reported more than ten years after it occurred, where the offender is a stranger and where there are no aggravating circumstances. These factors affect the quality and availability of evidence and suggest that the decision to prosecute is influenced mainly by the strength of the case and the prospect of success in court.

It is suggested in this paper that every effort be made to strengthen cases at the investigation stage by the comprehensive gathering of evidence and the support of victims in order to improve the response of the criminal justice system to sexual assault.


Acknowledgment: this article was first published in full in (2006) 92 Crime and Justice Bulletin, a publication of the NSW Bureau of Crime, Statistics and Research. Reproduced with permission.