Sexual Assault Complainants Could Get Immunity From Defamation Suits & How Was This Not A Thing?


New proposed legislation could give people who make sexual assault and harassment complaints full immunity against being sued for defamation and honestly, how was this not already a thing?

A consultation paper released by the Victorian government revealed it wants to extend the existing “complete immunity and defence” against defamation to people who make complaints to police and other bodies such as anti-discrimination commissions and professional disciplinary boards.

The defence would apply “even where the speaker deliberately or maliciously made a false or misleading statement” because “research into the prevalence of false, misleading or vexatious publications in a variety of reporting settings has consistently found them to be rare”.

The paper argued “the far more significant issue faced by investigative and enforcement bodies [was] reluctance of victim-survivors to report”.

Basically, people pretty much never falsely accuse someone of sexual assault and harassment, so the idea is these laws would ensure there were zero reasons a person would hesitate to come forward and report assault or harassment.

“Between 70 per cent to almost 90 per cent of Australians who have been sexually assaulted have not reported their most recent assault to police,” the paper said.

This… needs to change.

Defamation lawsuits against people who make these types of complaints are rare, according to University of Western Australia senior law lecturer Michael Douglas. But he told the Age “the perception that complainants could be sued may have a chilling effect on reporting of wrongdoing”.

“This proposal may alter perceptions for the better. If these reforms lead to more reporting of criminal wrongdoing, that is obviously a good thing,” Douglas said.

People who make sexual assault complaints but are then sued for defamation can use the “qualified privilege” defence. But that defence can be defeated when prosecutors prove the person making the complaint was “actuated by malice”. But obviously, sexism exists, so this can backfire and be yet another deterrent for people wanting to report assault.

Australian defamation laws are state-based so if approved the proposed laws would only come into effect at Victoria at this stage. But fingers crossed other states follow suit.