“Why didn’t you ask?” tackles family violence

Loddon Campaspe CLC’s family violence legal assistance service at Bendigo, Echuca and Maryborough has taught us that women often arrive at court not knowing what to expect from the legal process or how an intervention order will meet their needs. We also know that the courts often make assumptions about what victims of domestic violence want from the legal system. So we decided to take one step back and to ask women themselves what they wanted.

Why didn’t you ask? is a three-year project funded by the Legal Services Board. It employs a social worker, Marlene McLoughlan, and a solicitor, Bonnie Renou.

Increased duty lawyer services at local courts

Why didn’t you ask? also addresses the geographic or ‘postcode disadvantage’ that inhibits the delivery of consistent services across the population. Loddon Campaspe CLC’s family violence legal assistance service has been extended from three to five courts in our region to include Kyneton and Swan Hill. Where resources permit, we will seek to establish a presence at Kerang and Castlemaine courts.

Surveying women’s experiences

Marlene and Bonnie are researching the outputs of legal intervention (e.g. criminal charges, intervention orders, victims of crime applications) and comparing these with women’s preferred outcomes (e.g. improved health, safety, resilience, positive relationships).

In consultation with local service providers (the Centre for Non Violence and Annie North) and Loddon Campaspe CLC’s family violence clients, we have developed a survey that will gather information about women’s legal system preferences and needs. We will conduct follow-up interviews at a later stage with women to assess how legal ‘outputs’ compare with their preferred ‘outcomes’.

Partnership with local Aboriginal services

Family violence disproportionately impacts on Aboriginal communities and the legal system sometimes struggles to provide culturally appropriate solutions. Accordingly Why didn’t you ask? is working towards establishing an advice clinic based at the Bendigo and District Aboriginal Co-operative and establishing links with other Indigenous co-operatives to provide education about early intervention in relation to family violence.

Partnership with community health providers

Why didn’t you ask? also aims to demonstrate the benefits of medical-legal partnerships. Marlene and Bonnie have met with a number of local health providers, including the Loddon Mallee Murray Medicare Local GP Network, Bendigo Community Health Services, Bendigo and District Aboriginal Co-operative and Loddon Mallee Women’s Health. We have also met with Kyneton and Swan Hill health providers.

Recent state-wide data published by the Department of Justice (2012) indicates that 24% of women seeking help in relation to family violence first approach their health care worker. While approaches to police account for 52%, the number of women seeking help from health care workers represents a significant percentage. Accordingly, we are seeking to cement partnerships with health care providers so we can undertake research into when and how they screen for family violence and how they provide referrals to legal and other supports.

Why didn’t you ask? will deliver education sessions in relation to screening and referral and will collect data on whether referrals to support services have an impact on health service clients’ health.

Education sessions

Marlene and Bonnie will also deliver community legal education sessions on the legal protections for those at risk of family violence. They have already delivered one session to inmates at Tarrengower Women’s Prison. The session was well received and the women shared their experiences of the legal system. Some women told us that they thought the legal system was slowly improving in relation to women’s safety.

Future sessions will target community health services and local Aboriginal collectives.

Marlene and Bonnie are also active members of the Bendigo Family Violence Prevention Network, which for the last three years has organised White Ribbon Day in Bendigo. This year’s White Ribbon Day Ambassadors have been appointed and the network, convened by Victoria Police Regional Family Violence Coordinator (Margaret Singe), is planning for this year’s White Ribbon Day on 25 November.

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