Safety in the Family Court – Panel Discussion (ANROWS)
The Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety Limited (ANROWS) is an independent, not-for-profit research organisation established to produce evidence to support the reduction of violence against women and their children. ANROWS invited six experts from the domestic violence sector to the discussion panel to share their diverse experiences and views about improving safety of women and children in the Family Court.
Facilitator: Michele Robinson, Director of Evidence to Action at ANROWS
- Dr Jane Wangmann, Senior lecturer, Law, University of Technology Sydney
- Dr Rae Kaspiew, Executive Manager, Family Law, Family Violence and Elder Abuse, Australian Institute of Family Studies
- Tracey Turner, Domestic and Family Violence Specialist Worker (Aboriginal Focus), Sydney Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service)
- Angela Lynch AM, CEO, Women’s Legal Service Qld
- Janet Carmichael, Executive Director Child Dispute Service, Child Dispute Services, FCA & FCCA
- Molly Dragiewicz, Associate Professor, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Griffith University
Domestic violence has been a long-standing issue in Australia. During the pandemic there was a significant rise in the rate of women experiencing domestic violence.
The Family Court is in a key position to drive change and improve the safety of women and children. This panel event focussed on the Family Court reforms introduced since 2020 which aim to ensure greater protection of children and vulnerable women. A sample of these reforms include reviewing of existing laws and responding to the growing needs of family violence victims. For instance, one reform is about providing a new domestic violence-focused training program and improving child related decision-making in Family Courts. The Family Court is also focused on minimising the harm that legal processes can inflict on vulnerable groups.
Panellists talked about the existing issues faced by victims in navigating the courts and explored mechanisms to improve and increase their safety and access to services.
The speakers highlighted that although the new reforms are welcome, the issue of reducing trauma and improving safety for women and children in the Family Court, remains.
The panel highlight the multiple causes of trauma experienced by women in the court system. This includes:
- Self-representation – Women may have to represent themselves in court as they cannot afford to pay for legal services, with the lawyer often engaged over a protracted period. There are reports of lawyers pressuring or bullying women, which further undermines their sense of safety and empowerment.
- Threats to safety – Perpetrators may follow the litigants to Court and verbally abuse them. As the victims do not have a lawyer, they do not have access to knowledge about the safety measures that they can request while in the court. These include requesting safe rooms and seeking protection from security guards.
- Disempowerment – Proceedings in Family Court requires a specific form of legal language, which is difficult for Aboriginal people to comprehend. Without any legal support or cultural safety, many women find it hard to self-represent or file accurate paperwork. As a result, they feel disempowered in negotiating with the perpetrator and the judge for a favourable outcome.
- Women’s wellbeing – Current family laws can further traumatise victims and children. Domestic violence survivors commonly share parenting responsibilities with the perpetrator, and need to negotiate about decisions regarding health care, education, and counselling. In some cases, the perpetrator can use the decision-making process to control the victims. This increases the risk and further emotional abuse.
- Non-representation of children and young people’s voices – The current Court system does not sufficiently hear the experiences of children and young people witnessing domestic violence.
The panel offered a multitude of solutions to improve the safety and wellbeing of women and children. Suggestions included:
- Increasing funding to subsidise legal services and provide domestic violence training and education for lawyers.
- Ensuring cultural safety by including the Aboriginal voice – it is crucial to have Indigenous family workers provide service assistance to the Aboriginal victims.
- Advocating for children and young people’s attendance in family law proceedings and hearing their perspectives before decisions are made.
To know more, watch the video here.
Check out the other resources related to this discussion on safety (physical and cultural) for family violence victims and their children:
OPEN Symposium 2019 – Presentation on Keeping children visible when working in the context of family violence