A rape case involving a Victorian police officer has collapsed, in a blow to a new dedicated taskforce set up to investigate serious family violence allegations within the force.
A male senior constable had been charged with one count of rape and another of sexual touching without consent allegedly committed in August 2019.
The alleged offending was reported to police in 2021. The officer then resigned from the force, and was charged in February this year.
Police said the alleged sexual assault occurred at a private residence while the officer was off-duty.
The magistrate presiding over the case denied a court application by Guardian Australia for more information about the allegations.
It was one of the first major cases handled by the Sexual Offences and Family Violence Unit (Sofvu), which was hailed as an Australian-first when it was established late last year to handle family violence complaints against police officers.
But on 29 August the case was discontinued by the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) before it could proceed to trial.
“The decision was made on the basis that, having regard to the available evidence, there were not reasonable prospects of conviction on either charge,” a spokesperson for the OPP said.
“That conclusion was based on careful consideration of the evidence, and having regard to the standard of proof applicable in criminal cases – beyond reasonable doubt.
“These decisions are never made lightly. In this particular case, the prosecution team consulted extensively with the Victoria Police informant and other members of Victoria Police.”
A Victoria police spokesperson declined to comment on the OPP’s decision, or whether it would impact on the work of Sofvu.
“Sofvu will support victim-survivors regardless of the court outcome. Victoria Police has a Witness Support Unit which provides specialised support to all complainants and witnesses,” a Victoria police spokesperson said.
The collapse of the case comes at a delicate time for the force.
In September, the state’s Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (Ibac) announced it would investigate inappropriate police responses to family violence, as well as probe “predatory behaviour incidents” involving officers, as one of its six key areas of focus over the coming year.
But the following month Ibac itself was heavily criticised in a report which found it had fundamentally failed a woman who was abused by her police officer spouse, with delays in the handling of her case meaning a second officer who leaked her escape plan could not be prosecuted.
Sofvu investigates or oversees cases that involve Victoria police employees who are alleged to have committed family violence or sexual assault against women, children, partners and family members, according to a guide it has prepared for victim-survivors. The unit is a part of professional standards command, the Victoria police division responsible for all internal investigations.
The establishment of the unit had been cautiously welcomed by those who work with victim-survivors of family violence allegedly perpetrated by police.
But there are concerns that less serious allegations reported to Sovfu are referred on to police based in the region where the complaint was made, though the unit continues to oversee these investigations.
Lauren Caulfield, the coordinator of the Beyond Survival project, said this practice was concerning. Beyond Survival responds to issues in family violence policing, including police perpetrated offending.
Caulfield said there was no such thing as “low-risk” police perpetrators of family violence, because of the authority of officers, the power imbalance between them and those who had been abused, their access to private information via police databases, their knowledge of family violence and sexual assault response service systems, and their access to firearms and training.