POLICE have urged victims of sexual assault to come forward sooner after new statistics revealed more than half of all the cases brought forward in a five-year period went unsolved.
Between 2014 and 2018, data reveals 55.8 per cent of reported sexual assaults in the Wagga local government area stayed unsolved.
That figure translates to 207 of the reported 371 cases.
"I think 55 per cent is concernedly high, and I think we'd all like to see that be much lower," said Riverina Police District Superintendent Bob Noble.
By comparison, in the Junee local government area over the same time-frame, 22 of the reported 30 cases remained unsolved, representing 73.3 per cent.
While only 12.9 per cent - or 48 cases - in Wagga resulted in legal action, Superintendent Noble said the statistics can fail to highlight the nuanced challenges police confront.
"We're keen to see people brought before the courts for crimes," he said.
"[Police] are often given two conflicting versions of events that may not be corroborated by a third party."
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As with most police matters, the availability of material and witness evidence is key to reaching a favourable result.
But, sometimes more than other types of crimes, sexual assault cases often lack tangible accounts.
"Physical evidence is critical and can be lost quickly," Superintendent Noble said.
"In some cases, the crime is reported decades later. Quite often they are reluctant to report and there are all sorts of reason why that might be."
Even more than other types of crime, results require timeliness.
"Our focus is the victims," Superintendent Noble said.
"If you are a victim of any crime, but particularly a traumatic crime against the person, report it soon.
"The evidence can go cold quickly, and even more than that, the person may still be in danger."
Working in collaboration with the city's police, the Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MLHD) sexual assault support services are on the front line dealing with these particular crimes.
A spokesperson for the MLHD told The Daily Advertiser there were often significant challenges in even encouraging victims to seek police assistance.
"Sexual assault is highly under-reported," the spokesperson said.
"Many people who experience sexual assault choose not to disclose their sexual assault or to report the sexual abuse to police."
In order to achieve justice and bring down the unsolved statistics, Superintendent Noble said it would be a matter of breaking social stigmas and encouraging victims and witnesses to be forthcoming.
"I'd say people feel shame, but they should not feel shame for someone else's actions against them," Superintendent Noble said.
"It's the same thing we see with domestic violence, and the message we share there is, speak up. If you are a victim or if you know of a crime that's been committed, speak up."
But a particular barrier to coming forward exists in the fear of an intrusive legal system. To break this apprehension, Superintendent Noble said, more work needs to be done to provide holistic care.
"Being deposed by a defence barrister in court is daunting. We do provide a lot of support, but there is no getting away from it, that it often means re-living a traumatic experience," Superintendent Noble said.
"We do work very closely with victim support services and the department of public prosecutions. We're far from the only players."
The MLHD, and others of the city's support services, provide a range of all-hours co-ordinated justice and health care options, including ongoing counselling, medical examinations, police liaising and court preparation.
"MLHD Sexual Assault Services provide a 24/7 free and confidential psychosocial, medical and forensic services to adult and child victims of sexual assault, as well as the protective family, significant others and carers of these groups," said the MLHD spokesperson.
- Contact the Wagga Sexual Assault Service on 02 5943 2300 during business hours, or 02 5943 1000 after hours.