Family violence summit brings together federal and state bodies to talk solutions. The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) is holding a federal conference on family violence on Thursday and Friday. Experts, stakeholders and agencies told The Huffington Post Australia their clear demands for what comes out of the meeting.
These include better education programs, more support for crisis accommodation, changes to the legal system — and simply, more money in the sector.
At the Brisbane Convention Centre, the National Summit on reducing violence against women and their children will bring together state and territory premiers and chief ministers, women’s safety ministers, academics and experts in domestic and family violence, and community leaders to address violence against women in Australia. The theme of the summit is ‘Connect, Act, Change’.
To be blunt, Australia has a problem with domestic violence. Our Watch says at least one Australian woman is killed each week by a current or former partner; one in three have experienced physical violence since age 15, one in five have experienced sexual violence, and one in four have experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. More than 300,000 women experience violence from someone other than a partner.
Family violence campaigner Rosie Batty has led the calls from the sector in the leadup to the COAG summit, spearheading a plan to change how domestic violence victims are treated during court cases.
Currently, with many alleged victims and perpetrators of domestic violence representing themselves in family court disputes, victims are often forced to answer questions directly from their alleged abuser.
Working with Womens Legal Services Australia, Batty wants this to change, with a call to have all parties in family court disputes represented by government-funded lawyers to eradicate the need for family members to directly cross-examine each other.
“The cross examination issue is urgent and easily fixed. Women are being traumatised in the system right now and this is leading to adverse outcomes for children as well,” she said.
“There are still many issues with the family law system that put women and children in danger. But recently it’s become clear to me that this problem in particular is so urgent that we need to get focused.”
Agata Wierzbowski, policy and projects manager with Women’s Legal Service, told The Huffington Post Australia that WLS had five hopes for the COAG summit: in addition to the court changes, hopes for early intervention for legal help; financial help for victims of domestic violence; and the better education of family law professionals in responding to domestic violence .
“But in particular we are calling for an end to the direct cross-examination by alleged abusers. This is a real risk to children in the family law system. Not only are victims re-traumatised, they might be giving evidence through fear and that can lead to sub-optimal decisions about children’s safety,” she said.
“In up to half of disputed parenting cases, one or both parents don’t have legal representation. This means there is a real risk of the court being used by the abuser to further control the victim through cross examination.”
Wierzbowski said the model being proposed was called “counsel assisting”, where publicly funded legal representatives run the case, rather than alleged abusers questioning alleged victims directly.
“Ideally, there would be full representation of the parties… It would require more funding for legal representation,” she said.
By the Huffington Post
By: Josh ButlerBack to News
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