On the 7th of November, Deakin University’s Centre for Rural Regional Law and Justice (CRRLJ) launched Landscapes of Violence: Women Surviving Family Violence in Regional and Rural Victoria. The report, written by Amanda George and Dr Bridget Harris, highlights the impact of family violence on women living in rural and regional Victoria.
The report asked women survivors of family violence in regional and rural Victoria how well served they were by Victoria Police, magistrates’ courts, the Department of Human Services, lawyers, women’s services, family violence services and healthcare professionals. It also asked government and non-government practitioners and organisations for their perspectives.
Survivors interviewed by the report’s authors identified barriers to their escape from family violence and suggested how the criminal justice system might improve its support for victims and help to prevent family violence.
Survivor reports of police responses were polarised. The report authors suggest that this points to inconsistent implementation of Victoria Police protocols in relation to family violence.
Many survivors highlighted safety concerns in relation to court buildings: an issue we have pursued in relation to a number of courts in our region, notably Bendigo and Kyneton Courts.
Inconsistent referrals to culturally appropriate legal services, especially for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander survivors, were an issue of particular concern. As were funding cuts to Victoria Legal Aid, community legal centres and specialist family violence legal services, resulting in increased unmet legal need.
In short, the report’s findings mirror the experience of Loddon Campaspe and Goulburn Valley Community Legal Centres; namely, that women experiencing family or domestic violence in regional and (in particular) rural Victoria face even great challenges than their metropolitan counterparts. Country women are:
- more isolated, both geographically and socially
- less able to access employment and are more likely to have complicated financial arrangements and pressures that make it difficult to escape family violence (e.g. they run the family farm)
- subject to greater opportunities for surveillance and find it harder to maintain privacy and anonymity
- have less access to public transport, and that which is available is more expensive
- have limited access to crisis accommodation and live in areas facing a severe housing shortage
- less able to access support, health and legal services, and
- more likely to encounter conflict of interest barriers to accessing legal services.
In addition, the rural ‘digital divide’ reduces country women’s access to online legal information and assistance. There are higher rates of gun ownership amongst perpetrators of family violence. There is increased likelihood of family violence following natural disasters (e.g. bushfires), which are more common in rural areas. And there are fewer services and supports for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) survivors, and survivors with disabilities.
The report offers numerous specific recommendations. In terms of our family violence legal practice we note that the report called for:
- improvements to court spaces and models
- increased state government funding for specialised services, including services for children who have experienced family violence and sexual assault, ATSI and CALD survivors and survivors with disabilities
- changes to Commonwealth Government funding guidelines to allow community legal centres to work on relevant systemic advocacy and law reform
- Increased funding to allow community legal centres to respond to family violence
- funding for community legal centre family violence schemes at all courts
- increased Commonwealth and state government funding to specialist family violence legal workers within community legal centres
The report echoes concerns raised in our June 2014 post Funding double whammy for CLCs about the Federal budget’s cuts to community services, including our own, which will lose $200,000 (over 2015/16, 2016/17).
We welcome the report and its recommendations. Like the report’s authors, we ask that if a Royal Commission is conducted into family violence, that it consults with all stakeholders and that its recommendations be implemented without delay.
To read the full report, please visit the Centre for Rural Regional Law and Justice website.