Christian Porter and Kate, the alleged victim, at a formal debate team dinner, Sydney University, January 1988 (Image: Supplied)

Note: this story discusses references to suicide and sexual assault.

The details of the rape allegations against Christian Porter — allegations Porter denies — continue to be filled in, sporadically and out of sequence. Each new fact is pounced on by the media, hungry as it is to keep the story going because of its peculiar combination of salaciousness, profile and the absence of a legal reckoning.

The latest morsel is the heavily redacted file of the NSW Police Force’s Strike Force Wyndarra, its non-investigation of the alleged victim Kate’s claims against Porter. In February 2020, Kate met with NSW detectives to deliver her prepared statement and accompanying evidence. A formal interview was not conducted. She then returned to Adelaide.

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Detectives from the Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad moved quickly for approval to travel to South Australia to take Kate’s formal statement, the trigger for a proper investigation.

The request — supported by the investigations team leader, her two superiors and the head of State Crime Command — landed ultimately on the desk of deputy commissioner Dave Hudson for final approval.

Hudson said no, citing “insufficient detail provided to justify why this travel cannot be deferred” in accordance with a directive the police commissioner had just issued restricting interstate travel to “operational necessity” because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was March 13.

Two days earlier, NSW Police had directed that due to COVID-19 “all work-related overseas travel is now restricted to essential travel only”. For interstate travel, “approvals should be sought from appropriate deputy commissioner before undertaking”. Although the directive made it clear that overseas travel was heavily limited, there was no such indication of the parameters to be applied to interstate travel.

It appears therefore that the deputy commissioner may have been applying the wrong criteria to the Strike Force Wyndarra request. So that’s interesting.

As is the refusal itself. The detective chief inspector who approved the travel request on its way up had noted that “this matter involves a very high-profile [person of interest] and a detailed statement is required”.

The person of interest was the then-sitting attorney-general of the Commonwealth. The obvious question is why that alone wasn’t considered sufficient to justify the $4000 travel cost.

None of this establishes or evidences something seriously untoward. Mystifying sure, but inexplicability is not a proper basis for suspicion.

The other aspect of the police file that has the media excited is the lethargy that it seems to have reflected. Things didn’t move quickly.

Following the knockback on March 13, nothing apparently happened until April 1 when the strike force recorded that it would be revisiting “options” for obtaining Kate’s statement. The next day there was a teleconference with Kate, in which they “agreed to wait for three to four weeks and reassess the COVID-19 situation”.

The next follow-up was on April 22. The police recorded that Kate was now “resigned” to a lengthy wait and she was happy to hold off for a further four weeks.

The police also noted that South Australia Police had been contacted regarding their possibly taking Kate’s statement and that Kate “could change her mind in the interim, and in all honesty, who really knows when the travel restrictions will be lifted”.

On April 30 the NSW cops told their SA counterparts that their help wouldn’t be needed, because Kate was happy to wait until they could travel to Adelaide again.

Two months then passed with apparently no action at all. On June 22 the NSW detective emailed Kate for a “welfare check and travel status update”. What happened after that is completely redacted. However, we know that the following day Kate emailed back to say that she no longer wished to proceed, and the day after that she took her own life.

The period between Kate’s report and her death was four months, during which the only tangible action the NSW Police had taken was to seek, and fail to obtain, internal approval to travel south to interview her.

The internet and phone lines had been in working order the whole time, and South Australia had been maintaining its own police force. It’s not a major stretch to imagine the alternative means by which Strike Force Wyndarra might have moved the matter forward.

It may be tempting to leap to a conspiracy theory, that unseen hands were directing the inactivity on Kate’s case; that by some means the fix was in.

Personally I don’t think so. The sad truth, to which I can speak based on my dealings with the police investigations for a significant number of sexual assault complainants, is that there was nothing at all unusual about how NSW Police handled Kate’s case.

My observation across multiple jurisdictions has been that lack of urgency and priority is a consistent feature of rape investigations. I see nothing in Kate’s file that surprises me or I haven’t seen before.

I know other survivors who have been waiting many months for police to take any concrete action on their complaints. One waited a year with almost no contact before Victoria Police finally told her that they wouldn’t be laying charges, with no explanation as to why. That is, regrettably, not unusual.

Whether it is lack of resources or priority, I don’t know. I’m not accusing the police of not caring about rape victims; I know the detectives on the ground really do care. 

However, my anecdotal conclusion is that these cases are not being prioritised, and I know that the lack of urgency is a major factor in victims’ retraumatisation.

The handling of Kate’s report was not good enough. It was also not unusual, which is worse.

Michael Bradley, Crikey’s legal correspondent, was Kate’s lawyer at the time of her death.

If you or someone you know is affected by sexual assault or violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.auLifeline is on 13 11 14 and Beyond Blue is 1300 22 4636.

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Peter Fray
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