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DV victims overwhelm women’s legal services: new case data renews pleas for $25m lifeline

Women’s Legal Services Australia (WLSA) are managing over 70% more ongoing legal cases for at-risk women this financial year, new case data shows, as WLSA renews its urgent appeal to the federal government for an annual $25 million boost needed to help protect women and children from violence.

New case data shows women’s legal services across Australia have substantially increased their long-term legal support for disadvantaged women, with a 30% increase in cases requiring ongoing representation in courts and tribunals compared to 2019-20.

Services are also taking on more clients for shorter-term support, providing nearly 40% more legal assistance through drop ins and duty lawyer services.

Despite this drastic increase in caseload, turnaways have risen 14% as requests for help continue to pour in, prompting serious fears for the thousands of women experiencing violence who can’t access the legal advice and social support they need to escape.

“In every corner of Australia, from capital cities to the most remote areas, women are reaching out in unprecedented numbers to seek help escaping violence,” says Janet Taylor, Managing Principal Solicitor of Central Australian Women’s Legal Service.

“Last year we advised the Federal Government our services needed $25 million to meet the demand, but we received no response. Our legal system can’t protect women if they can’t access it.

“If the government and its new Taskforce for Women want to stamp out violence against women, then it must fully fund the specialist legal support victims need to protect themselves.”

Women’s legal services are also providing twice the level of specialist non-legal assistance like financial counselling and social services, as increasing numbers of women require wrap-around support to safely escape violence with their children and rebuild their lives.

“Many of the women seeking help are experiencing coercive control, an insidious form of family violence that can include financial abuse, monitoring and isolation as well as physical violence,” says Ms Taylor. “Studies show attempting to leave this kind of abuser significantly heightens the risk of homicide.

“For these cases, generalist legal assistance isn’t enough. Women’s legal services are specialised. We understand these forms of violence and the dangers involved for both women and their children. We work collaboratively with other services and we ensure risk assessment and safety planning is central to the legal pathways taken.

“Without specialist legal services in combination with other supports, women cannot safely leave their abuser or protect their children. In the worst cases, the result is fatal.

“$25 million is a small ask in the context of a Federal budget, but it will save lives.”

Media contact: Hannah Craft, 0423 377 965

About Women’s Legal Services Australia

Women’s Legal Services Australia (WLSA) is a national network of community legal centres specialising in women’s legal issues, which work to support, represent and advocate for women to achieve justice in the legal system. We seek to promote a legal system that is safe, supportive, non-discriminatory and responsive to the needs of women. Some of our centres have operated for over 35 years.

Our members’ principal areas of legal service work are family violence (family violence intervention orders), family law, child protection and crimes compensation. Our members also deliver training programs and educational workshops to share our expertise regarding effective responses to violence and relationship breakdown with other stakeholders and the community.

Across the country, Women’s Legal Services deliver a diverse range of socio-legal service models to the most financially disadvantaged women in Australia. The majority of women we represent have experienced, or are still experiencing, family and domestic violence and family breakdown.

Both WLSA and its individual member services work to contribute to policy and law reform discussions, primarily focused on sexual and family violence, to ensure that the law does not unfairly impact on women experiencing violence and relationship breakdowns.