Loddon Campaspe CLC’s Family Violence Legal Service at Bendigo, Echuca and Maryborough Courts 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 family violence want from the legal system. So we’ve been asking women themselves what they wanted via our Why didn’t you ask? program (funded through a grant from the Legal Services Board), which has just released its Interim project report.
As part of the program, Why didn’t you ask? has been comparing legal outputs (eg criminal charges) to women’s preferred outcomes (eg improved health).
By September 2013 we had surveyed over 120 women. The first part of the survey was conducted before women’s matters were heard in court. Interim results from the first part of the survey found:
- Over 90% of women wanted their concerns for safety to be heard and respected.
- Over 70% of women wanted to make their children safer.
- Nearly 70% of women wanted to begin to heal from the harm that has been caused.
Many women wanted their partner or former partner’s behaviour to be monitored. And a large proportion of women wanted their partner or former partner to acknowledge the harm he had done.
The second section of the survey, conducted after women’s matters were heard in court, found:
- Over 70% of women believed that their lawyer had listened to their concerns and had addressed them.
- Over 65% of women agreed that they would encourage someone in their position to go to court.
- Over 65% of women agreed that their lawyer was thorough, asked questions and explained options.
Women had varied responses when asked whether they felt that the Magistrate was receptive to their concerns for their safety. Over 40% of women felt respected and supported by police.
Improving the experiences of women
A key goal of Why didn’t you ask? is to identify opportunities and strategies to drive changes in community legal centre practice to improve the experience women dealing with family violence and lawyers. Opportunities and strategies for reform will include improvements to the Court environment; the responsiveness of Magistrates, Court staff and Police; and the range of legislative options open under Family Violence law.
Family violence policy issues
The survey also raised a number of policy issues, including Magistrates’ arbitrary removal of children from intervention orders, access to funded legal representation, inadequate safety assessments by Registrars, and inadequate Court infrastructure.
Through the project we plan to:
- Achieve timely, effective and appropriate legal services across the region.
- Increase the knowledge of health professionals concerning legal interventions and the health benefits of timely legal interventions.
- Improve health outcomes for victims of violence through early identification and referral for legal interventions.
- Join up services between relevant health, legal and social services
- Establish collaborative practices between social workers and lawyers in country areas
- Establish appropriate, effective and increased legal assistance services to Indigenous communities.
- Increase knowledge of service users, service providers and the community generally about the range of legal interventions that can be used to address family violence.
Our two project workers, Courtney and Bonnie, spoke about the interim findings at the November 2013 Advocacy and Rights Centre Report to Community. To see their report, please check out the video on our YouTube channel.
The next phase
The project’s next phase will involve interviews with women we have assisted who are willing to engage further in the project. These interviews will seek to identify how the legal ‘output’ which had been achieved for them through the court process compares with the preferred ‘outcomes’ they identified in the survey.