Domestic Violence: Local Community Workers Being Trained to Spot Victims’ Legal Problems

10 Dec 2021
Domestic Violence: Local Community Workers Being Trained to Spot Victims’ Legal Problems

During the 16 Days in WA – Stop Violence Against Women campaign, Community Legal WA, the peak body for community legal centres in Western Australia, is partnering with Relationships Australia WA to deliver training to local community workers as part of a state-wide project to address the wide-ranging impacts of family and domestic violence on vulnerable and disadvantaged Western Australian women and children.

The training is designed to help community workers recognise the legal issues faced by their clients experiencing family and domestic violence, so they can be referred for legal assistance.

The project, a collaboration with 15 local and specialist community legal centres across the state, is funded by the State Government of WA, Department of Communities as part of their response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The funding has come at a critical time for a growing number of Western Australian women:

  • Western Australia has the second-highest rate of domestic violence in the country.
  • In Western Australia, Covid-19 has led to a spike in domestic violence-related assaults and threatening behaviours – 10.6% and 15.3% respectively. 1
  • A 2020 Nationwide survey2 found that Covid-19 also led to an increase in the range and intensity of abusive behaviour toward women and children across Australia, and an increase in the number of clients seeking assistance for family and domestic violence matters.
  • In the same survey, 86% of service providers reported that the pandemic increased the complexity of their clients’ needs.
  • Survivors of family and domestic violence experience on average 20 different legal issues, which are complex, wide-ranging and on average more serious than the general population.

In addition to the workshops, the State Government’s $1.2 million dollar investment in the project is also funding a state-wide increase in legal service delivery for domestic violence victims until mid-2022, and the development of a family and domestic violence specific Legal Health Check tool for workers plus a suite of dedicated resources, both launched this week on the Community Legal WA website.

Relationships Australia Chief Executive Officer Terri Reilly said:

“Relationships Australia WA’s approach to assisting women experiencing violence is holistic and supportive. This includes addressing legal issues that can have a major impact on safety and wellbeing and our people have developed this knowledge over many years. This training ensures continued support for women to access timely legal advice.”

Gemma Spee, Coordinator at Relationships Australia WA’s Djinda Services said:

“My clients often have a range of complex needs, so it’s really important for me to be able to identify when they could benefit from legal advice and to be able to connect them to services in a supported way, so that they are not left to navigate the system alone.”
Today’s workshop for Relationships Australia WA staff comes during the 16 Days in WA – Stop Violence Against Women campaign and follows yesterday’s 31st annual Silent Domestic Violence Memorial March, paying tribute to those who have lost their lives as a result of family and domestic violence.

Community Legal WA Chief Executive Officer Chelsea McKinney says:

“The impact of family and domestic violence does not stop at a single act. Survivors experience a wide range of legal problems which, if not addressed, can lead to devastating outcomes in the short and long term, such as severe debt, the separation of children and homelessness. This then can also lead to a significant impact on a woman’s safety and physical and mental well-being.

“If we are serious about tackling violence against women in our community, we need to provide supports to prevent these dire consequences. Legal assistance is a crucial part of holistic service delivery and directly improves the safety of women and children.

“This project directed at Community Workers follows successful Legal Health Check training delivered to refuge workers across Western Australia this year, and represents a significant ramp-up in the community legal sector’s efforts to help victims of family and domestic violence gain better access legal services.

“This welcome funding is only until June 2022, and Community Legal WA is working with the state government to seek continuing investment to support the government’s goal of reducing improving safety for women and children.”

1 The Guardian, 2020, 'The worst year': domestic violence soars in Australia during Covid-19 | Domestic violence | The Guardian
2 Kerry Carrington, Christine Morley, Shane Warren, Bridget Harris, Laura Vitis, Jo Clarke and Vanessa Ryan, 2021, The Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Domestic and Family Violence Services and Clients, Australia, Briefing Paper, Breifing-Paper-Issue-12-May-2021.pdf (qut.edu.au)