Family violence is on the political, media and public agenda in a way that it has never been before. We have a unique window of opportunity to create real and lasting change. What might that look like for the justice system? Can we craft a system that responds better to victims’ needs? Can we avoid the current harm the system causes? Can we go even further and design a system which actively promotes the healing of family violence victims?
First, do no harm
Surely the medical principle, “first do no harm”, is a good place to start when crafting a system that responds better to victims’ needs. How can we reduce and eliminate the harm that is caused to victims by having to navigate multiple legal issues, in multiple courts over an extended period of time, often without legal representation?
Our Royal Commission submission makes a number of practical recommendations such as:
- Making video-conferencing broadly available for victims in intervention order cases so that they do not have to compromise their safety and well-being at court
- Improved information sharing protocols between the police, child protection and the family law and family violence courts so that women do not have to repeat their story multiple times
- Improving victim access to free legal representation by funding community lawyers to provide assistance to women at the time they make an intervention order application.
These changes would all make a real and practical difference but they don’t address what is perhaps victims’ biggest concern about the justice system: that they don’t feel heard. In order to shift power to victims to allow them to be heard and to heal, innovative and even “radical” approaches should be considered and tried.
One example of a more innovative approach is the introduction of a specialist victim advocate. The Victorian Coroner, in handing down his findings in the Luke Batty inquest, recommended specialist women’s advocates, whose role it would be to support a victim through their entire journey through the service system and the legal system.
Responses which might be seen as more “radical” include the use of restorative justice processes. Restorative justice is a victim focussed approach that provides a safe and supported environment for victims to communicate to the perpetrator the harm caused to themselves and to negotiate actions that they believe would be restorative. The perpetrator has an opportunity to take accountability for his actions and to make appropriate reparations.
It’s only once we open up to the range of innovative, long term solutions that we will truly provide opportunities for victims to heal and have their voices heard in the justice system.
If you or someone you know has been affected by domestic violence, call the National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line, 1800-RESPECT (1800 737 732). In an emergency, call 000.
The National Working with Men to Tackle Family Violence Conference takes place in Sydney in February 2017. In association with No To Violence, this event will share and discuss strategies for prevention, intervention and perpetrator accountability.