Can anonymous online reporting of sexual assault improve justice outcomes?

Georgina Heydon2,Rachel Loney-Howes
2RMIT, Melbourne, Australia

It is well established in the literature that rape and sexual assault are the most underreported crimes world-wide, with an estimated 80-90% of sexual assaults going unreported annually (Daly and Bouhours 2010; ABS 2012; Johnson 2012; Rotenberg 2017). The challenges associated with encouraging survivors to formally report rape and sexual assault to the police include poor police interview practices, as well as problematic police attitudes influenced by rape culture that can undermine, belittle or fail to take seriously individuals who report experiences of sexual assault (Campbell 2006; Rich 2014). In response to these shortcomings within the criminal justice system, we have seen innovations in the online collection of anonymous and confidential reports such as Sexual Assault Reporting Anonymously (or SARA) developed by South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault (hereafter SECASA) in Victoria, Australia. While users are reporting to a rape crisis service, they know that their information will be passed on to police for intelligence purposes and crime mapping, with the option of making a formal report. This paper offers an analysis of the SARA website data to assist researchers and sector stakeholders to understand what kind of information is being shared with SARA, how SARA is being used and the key features of reports. The research utilises 483 de-identified reports to SARA from March 4th 2013, when the application was first launched, to August 26th 2016. This paper presents the key findings of that analysis, including a statistical snapshot of the reports and the broad trends in user behaviour.


Associate Professor Georgina Heydon (Gendered Violence and Abuse Research Alliance, RMIT University, Australia) is an internationally recognised expert in the field of forensic linguistics and investigative interviewing, and has published numerous academic papers and a book, ‘The Language of Police Interviewing’, on the topic of interviewing and information gathering.  Over the last four years, she has been collaborating with colleagues in gendered violence and digital criminology to examine reporting and information gathering in sexual assault and family violence cases.


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