By Di Simpson
Along with 7 wonderful women from our firm (and two charming gentlemen guests) I had the pleasure of attending the annual DVCS ball on the 19th of March. These sorts of events are always great – we get a chance to put on our glamorous best, enjoy a lovely meal with great company, and put some money towards a cause that is important and worthy.
The contrast between what we were doing that night and what the DVCS workers (of course many of their team were at work that night) do each day and night was stark: answering phone calls from women who are fearful and in need of immediate help; travelling to “incidents” with police to provide immediate front line help and reassurance to frightened women and children; and in some instances, arranging urgent accommodation for them for the night, and sometimes longer.
DVCS has operated in Canberra for 28 years, assisting 27,000 families in the last ten years alone.
Last year at this function, we were moved by the words of Rosie Battie and her unflinching re-telling of her own horror story. This year, Australian of the Year, David Morrison challenged us all to shift our focus and insist on attitudinal change – that it came down to all of us to re-think attitudes to gender as the foundation to preventing family violence.
I welcomed the comments of our (then new) Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull on 24 September 2015 when announcing a Women’s safety package to stop the violence. He commented, “… disrespecting women does not always result in violence against women. But all violence against women begins with disrespecting women… Women must be respected. Disrespecting women is unacceptable. It is unacceptable at every level. At home, at the workplace, wherever… And we have to make it as though it was un-Australian to disrespect women. We must become a country which is known for its respect for women.”
This is a conversation we need to continue – with each other, with our partners and with our children.
Here is what the DVCS did in the 12 months to December 2015:
- Answered 20,926 calls to their crisis line
- Attended upon 1,476 crisis visits
- Assisted 695 people at Court to obtain a DVO or attend the Return Conference
- Attended upon 325 visits with children who are part of their Young People’s Outreach Program
- 93% of their clients were women, and 7% were men
- 54% of their clients were aged between 25 and 44 years
- There were 6,052 new clients to the service
As family lawyers, we meet many people who experience family violence, sometimes in extreme instances. In other situations we see the consequence of years of control and denigration, and the serious toll on the confidence and autonomy of women. Our role is not just to advise as to the law, but to engage in supporting our clients to feel able to consider alternatives and to take protective actions:
- Proceedings in the ACT Magistrate to obtain protection orders, if possible, negotiating outcomes that result in protective orders without the necessity of a trial. On other occasions, proceeding to trial is essential;
- In the Family Law Courts, obtaining restraining orders and placing necessary limits around the care of children, to ensure their safety and the safety of the parent.
We have an important role in engaging in courageous advocacy – informally in promoting better protections and outcomes for all women experiencing family violence – and in the court rooms where we take responsibility for ensuring there are consequences for this conduct and real protections to shield the innocent.
At the same time, our voices join the chorus demanding change.