Royal Commission as SA domestic deaths and sexual violence spike

A Royal Commission into Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence will be held next year, as the state government responds to women being killed allegedly by men they know and sexual violence reports spike.

Dec 14, 2023, updated Dec 14, 2023

Premier Peter Malinauskas met about 30 key people from the domestic and family violence sector at a roundtable yesterday, including ministers, industry organisations, senior public servants and SA Police, following intense lobbying and a rally calling for the commission.

Sector leaders said urgent action needs to be taken as domestic and sexual violence reports are “spiking across the state”.

Malinauskas said after the roundtable that a review of findings from Royal Commissions in Victoria and Queensland showed no immediate recommendations for South Australia, and that terms of reference and a commissioner would be appointed early next year for the state’s own year-long inquiry.

“The recent deaths experienced in our state were a horrendous reminder of how far our society still has to go in addressing the scourge of domestic violence,” Malinauskas said.

“This unfortunate truth is that this problem is not new. Nor is it going away. As a society, we must do better.”

The move comes as the state government prepares to introduce new laws to criminalise coercive control into parliament next year, while the Attorney-General has a review of sexual consent laws underway.

Zahra Foundation chief executive officer Kelly-ann Tansley said a perpetrator monitoring bill would also “allow use of electronic home monitoring on high-risk domestic violence offenders here in SA” in sentencing.

Tansley said domestic violence figures – as well as sexual violence figures – are “spiking across the state”.

Most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show a 2 per cent increase in the number of sexual assaults recorded by SA police in 2022, from 1783 victims to 1816.

Data in the Review of Sexual Consent Laws in South Australia discussion paper currently on the YourSay website shows 176 victims per 100,000 females – more than eight times the number of male victims – stating that the majority of victims knew their offender.

According to the 2021-22 ABS Personal Safety Survey, Australia-wide figures show the majority (92 per cent or 680,300) of women who experienced sexual assault by a male did not report the most recent incident to police.

Tansley, whose organisation was established by Arman, Atena and Anita Abrahimzadeh after their mother was killed by her estranged husband at the Adelaide Convention Centre on March 22, 2010, was “thrilled” about the Royal Commission announcement.

She was hopeful that the enquiry would lead to a new strategic plan encompassing all government departments and services to ensure the safety of women and children “and the voices of lived experience have been heard”.

Tansley said that eight years ago SA introduced significant reforms after the inquest into Zahra Abrahimzadeh, but the service system was too focused on housing and homelessness.

“The problem you are seeing today is the way the service system has been established and it is predominantly focused on victim protection,” she said.

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“Women in SA need to be prepared to leave their homes to get access to good support.”

She wanted a new strategy that encompassed all sectors of government and recognised that “family violence is everybody’s responsibility”.

The Embolden alliance, representing 18 women’s safety, legal and welfare groups, wrote to Malinauskas pleading for “urgent action” after news of the deaths of four women in a week during November.

The alliance called for a royal commission into the extent of domestic violence in SA and how to better respond, and on November 24 rallied at Parliament House.

Women and Domestic Violence Prevention Minister Katrine Hildyard said the recent deaths of women in SA “and the ongoing prevalence of domestic, family and sexual violence is utterly unacceptable, and is a call to further action”.

In South Australia during November, Jodie Jewell was shot dead by her estranged husband Kevin Jewell with his body later found on Yorke Peninsula.

Three other women have been killed by a man allegedly known to them: at Felixstow on November 15, near Port Augusta on November 16, and in Morphett Vale on November 19. Three men have been charged with murder.

The premier said the royal commission was expected to cost about $3 million, similar to what was spent on the Royal Commission into Early Childhood Education and Care headed by former prime minister Julia Gillard.

The Attorney-General’s Department is seeking public input into its review of the state’s sexual consent laws with submissions open until Monday, February 12.

The discussion paper identifies opportunities for reform, including:

  • introducing an affirmative consent model;
  • updating the subject and timing of jury directions;
  • changing image-based sexual offence penalties;
  • expanding pre-trial hearings and the availability of ‘ground rules’ hearings;
  • amending requirements for evidence about prior sexual history.

“A significant number of sexual assaults never come to the attention of the criminal justice system. Of those offences that are reported, only a small proportion proceed to trial, with an even smaller percentage resulting in a successful conviction,” the call for input said.

“Reviewing and potentially changing our laws ensures they continue to be robust and in-line with the changing attitudes in society, as well as meeting the continual changes in technology.”

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