Kids will die without court reform: survivor
A domestic violence survivor has called for urgent reforms to the Victorian court system to ensure women’s and children’s safety is not put at risk.
‘You have to wait until a child is no longer here and then they go, “Oh, gee”. This is what is going on with the court system right now,’ the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told UniPollWatch.
She points to the murders of Luke Batty and sisters Indianna and Savannah at the hands of their fathers last year as proof the current system is failing children affected by family violence.
‘[The courts should] consider the perpetrators’ profiles carefully, as they can be retaliatory when women stand up for the rights of these children,’ she said.
‘This is when these kids can get killed.’
In an interview with UniPollWatch early in the 2014 election campaign, Labor Opposition Leader, Daniel Andrews labelled family violence the ‘biggest law and order challenge in our state today’.
‘It’s a crisis,’ Mr Andrews said. ‘Too many women are dying, too many children are being impacted beyond measure.’
If elected, Mr Andrews has promised to instigate a royal commission into family violence to be completed by the end of 2015.
The Coalition state government has dismissed the promise of a royal commission into family violence as an expensive delaying tactic.
‘We have a plan and we are investing in what we know works based on the best advice of victims of family violence, frontline family violence workers, Victoria Police and the courts,’ Deputy Premier Peter Ryan said in a statement.
‘The Government is not willing to put more families at risk by procrastinating and delaying rather than implementing a real plan to make families safer.’
The Coalition’s ‘real plan’ includes a trial of GPS monitored bracelets and funding for additional support workers in Victoria’s courts.
According to the No More Deaths campaign ‘a safe, integrated, responsive and well-resourced court system will save lives.’
Policy and Projects Manager at the Women’s Legal Service Victoria, Pasanna Mutha-Merennege, says, while there has been some improvements in recent years, more can be done.
‘I think part of it is, it is quite difficult when you have family violence courts sitting at a state level, and then family law courts which sit at a federal level. So they’re actually two different jurisdictions,’ Ms Mutha-Merennege told UniPollWatch.
As part of the No More Deaths campaign, Ms Mutha-Merennege is calling for specialist family violence units in all courts across Victoria, safe waiting spaces and an end to the ‘federal/state blame game on the funding of community legal centres’.
Currently, only one Victorian court has a dedicated safe waiting space for family violence victims, and only five out of 53 Magistrates Courts employ victim support workers. The campaign also identifies perpetrators’ lack of accountability as a big issue, with at least 820 offenders breaching intervention orders three times or more in 2013-14.
Survivors of domestic violence, including the woman who spoke to UniPollWatch, often feel re-traumatised by the legal process.
‘Sitting in a space where he is over the other side of the room smirking, you feel scared and unsafe,’ she said.
Ms Mutha-Merennege would also like to see better access to remote witness facilities for women affected by family violence.
‘There has definitely been a shift to understand and recognise family violence in family law cases, but we would argue that the court system still has a long way to go.’
A full list of the ‘key asks’ of the No More Deaths campaign can be accessed here: http://www.dvrcv.org.au/sites/thelookout.sites.go1.com.au/files/NoMoreDeaths_Campaign_Key_Asks.pdf
Matilda Marozzi is a graduating journalism student from RMIT University.