ActivePaper Archive ‘It’s important society can hold people accountable’ - The Age, 4/4/2021

‘It’s important society can hold people accountable’


Chanel Contos

The young woman who set off a national discourse about sexual consent among young people is calling on Victoria Police to launch a new system to make it easier to report sexual assault and allow police to better track alleged repeat offenders.

University student Chanel Contos is pushing for a program that would allow sexual assault complaints to be made to police anonymously online.

Under the Operation Vest scheme Ms Contos launched with NSW Police last month, filing an anonymous complaint does not lead to a formal investigation being launched, but the report is kept on record if the alleged victim chooses to proceed later.

Police can also track if the same alleged offenders are reported multiple times.

Ms Contos’ push is designed to provide an avenue for reporting the experience of some of the more than 5000 young people, including many Victorians, who came forward with graphic testimonies of sexual assault in response to Ms Contos’ petition that began as a poll on her Instagram page.

The 23-year-old alleges she was sexually assaulted when she was 13. The same person allegedly assaulted her friend a year later. Operation Vest, Ms Contos told The Sunday Age, “is aimed at normalising the reporting of sexual assault, because our current society makes it so hard to do so, especially when the victim knows the perpetrator personally”.

“It is not about getting people into trouble for things they did when they were teenagers,” she said. “It’s important our society has a way to hold people accountable for their actions without sending them to jail. Government can play a large role in facilitating that through policies and law reform.”

The consent advocate is running a virtual briefing on Thursday for Victorian MPs on consent education that she hopes many will attend “because there is an epidemic of sexual assault amongst school children in Australia”.

“It doesn’t matter if you haven’t heard of an assault in a school in your electorate, I can guarantee it is still happening but remains unreported,” she said.

The briefing has been organised by the Liberal member for Brighton, James Newbury, who called Ms Contos a “fierce voice of a generation, having spoken out on behalf of tens of thousands of young people”.

The university student’s petition prompted leaders of prestigious Victorian schools including Xavier College and Geelong Grammar School to write to their school communities about sexual consent.

The Andrews government has announced that schools would now expressly address matters of sexual consent as part of the curriculum.