May 31, 2021 | Izzy Lyndon-James
Victoria continues to face a crisis of domestic and family violence across the state.
In 2017, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that one in six Australian women and one in sixteen Australian men experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or previous cohabiting partner since the age of 15.
In Victoria, these numbers escalated significantly over the course of 2020, in close correlation with the conditions of lockdown and isolation throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
This May marks Domestic and Family Violence Prevention month, and across the Victorian Community Legal Centre sector, new and innovative services are working to prevent and diminish the presence of domestic and family violence in our communities.
One ground-breaking program working to address domestic and family violence belongs to the LGBTIQ Legal Service.
According to the LGBTIQ Legal Service, the queer and gender diverse community experience similar rates of intimate partner and family violence to women in the heterosexual community, but there is a gap in service delivery tailored to the specific issues and concerns faced by the community.
Tanja Golding, managing lawyer at LGBTIQ Legal Service, told the ABC Radio’s Conversation Hour, “their gender identity or their sexuality is actually used in the family violence perpetrated against them.”
Some studies, Golding says, have found concerning rates of inter-partner violence, with Latrobe University finding 41.7% of LGBTIQ people reporting some form of violence in a relationship.
Historically, without inclusive or accessible services, members of the LGBTIQ community have been left as vulnerable as heterosexual victim-survivors with fewer avenues to seek assistance.
Many LGBTIQ individuals are deterred from seeking legal assistance due to fears of misunderstanding or discrimination, according to Golding.
Initiated in 2021, the LGBTIQ Family Violence Program is the first dedicated state-wide program of its kind in Victoria, and is helping to reach out to vulnerable members of the queer community.
Already, this new program has provided 37 advice sessions to 25 LGBTIQ clients.
In regional Victoria, the Bendigo Family Violence Justice Project (BFVJP) is helping women in Bendigo access critical legal assistance. The BFVJP is integrated service partnership between Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre (LCCLC) and specialist family violence service, the Centre for Non-Violence (CNV).
Before this program, women in the Bendigo area would need to wait for their appointed court day to be able to speak to their duty lawyer, without a dedicated consultation or specialised assistance.
Now, with a community lawyer co-located at the CNV office three days per week, case managers can better identify legal need, and provide clients with timely, effective legal support.
Since 2019, the BFVJP has provided legal help to more than 160 women who otherwise may have struggled to access appropriate legal assistance for their precarious situation.
Acting CEO Annika Kearton comments that “identifying unmet legal needs early, and increasing access to legal information and support, is critical to changing the trajectory for at-risk women and their children and to keeping them safe.”
Often unspoken are the roll-on impacts in other areas of the lives of domestic and family violence victim-survivors – the Law and Justice Foundation of New South Wales found that victim-survivors of domestic and family violence are 10 times more likely to face other legal problems.
The BFVJP provides ongoing legal assistance and casework service to women with related legal issues stemming from their experience of family violence, such as family law, child protection, credit and debt and housing matters.
Featured recently in The Age, Eastern Community Legal Centre (ECLC) has also taken an innovative approach to identifying and responding to women and children at risk of violence.
By bringing community lawyers into local health and community services, the program allows for discreet meetings for community lawyers and victim-survivors in a safe, confidential setting.
At a time where the constraints of the pandemic made it significantly harder for victim-survivors to seek legal help, this integrated program reached individuals that traditional services could not.
ECLC’s program has also created a new avenue for lawyers and family violence advocates to educate staff in other services around the legal aspects of domestic and family violence issues.
Belinda Lo, ECLC’s Director of Legal Services, says it is community partnerships like this that are bridging the gaps in Victoria’s family violence and legal assistance systems.
“Community legal centres are forming innovative health justice partnerships that connect everyday community settings to multi-disciplinary legal services like ours,” says Lo.
“Alongside primary prevention work to change community attitudes and a well-funded crisis system, early intervention is an important element in preventing violence local communities.”
If you or anyone you know National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).
The contact details for the community legal centres featured are below:
Eastern Community Legal Centre – website and email
Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre – website and contact form