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We're still not safe

24 June 2016, Action for Change

Lilly – a Save the Children Youth Ambassador – knows the personal trauma caused by family violence and abuse.

She tells some confronting truths about how hard it really is for children and women to be safe in Australia's complex and expensive legal system. 

Thousands of women and children are hurt by violence in the home every year. That abuse could be violent, sexual, emotional or financial. Kids are hurt because this family abuse can prevent them from growing up, going to school, getting jobs or becoming happy adults. 

These issues mean a great deal to me because I was a victim of incest. I know how frustrating it can be going through the courts to try and get justice, or even protection. 

It’s been impossible for me and my mum to get legal protection from the person who sexually abused me. The whole process was nothing short of awful. I was only ten years old at the time and attempting to support my mother with her own domestic violence situation. 

Since then I have been receiving treatment for anxiety and depression. It breaks my heart to think that other children have to be dragged through that same thing. 

Our experience shows the legal process can be needlessly difficult for kids to get the protection they need and deserve. 

Last week at the National Press Club, Rosie Batty said what many Australian kids and teenagers like me desperately want to hear: there are ways to protect women and keep children safe from abuse. 

Women and children’s safety can come at a high price, with many paying exorbitant legal fees after going through the Family Court system or finding the legal process almost as traumatising as the abuse they received. 
As I write, police have dealt with 447 family violence matters today. That’s one day on average. That’s one every two minutes and around 5,000 per week. 

But even once the police are called, we’re still not safe and have to go through the Family Court system. Not only is the system expensive, it’s not accessible for Indigenous Australians or people who have English as a second language. 

Many families represent themselves because it’s too expensive to afford a lawyer and there isn’t enough funding for Legal Aid. That places women and children in a situation where they could be questioned by the person who abused them – which can be like going through that abuse all over again. 

You might say this isn’t Australia’s problem and that we should find our own money to get legal protection and get away from abuse. But you don’t realise how much domestic violence and other forms of abuse cost you already. Why do we have to pay to receive the protection we deserve? 

Think of it this way: a 2011 report by Our Watch estimates domestic violence costs Australia $13 billion a year. That’s more than one-quarter of our current budget deficit that we could fix by getting women back to work, by getting kids in school and able to focus on their education, and by making affordable housing accessible. This all results in families being able to contribute more to Australia. 

It was so welcome to hear Rosie Batty call for a five-step roadmap to protect vulnerable women and children. These steps are: help abused families by giving specialist support in family courts; protect and support people at risk from being abused again; step in early with legal support; help abused families financially recover from abuse; and teach everyone in the legal system what domestic violence actually means and how it can damage us. 
These are steps I know would help thousands of Australians finally live safe from harm or go through the legal process quickly and with appropriate support. 

While we see endless political debate about things like “jobs and growth”, it is more important for me and my family to see action on the important issue of family violence. Not only because we’ve lived through abuse but because the safety of every Australian family is important. 

That’s why family violence and protection are election issues. Think of your family and vote for their safety. 

First published on Mamamia.

Header image: Robert McKechnie/Save the Children Australia


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