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Court system further compounding family violence trauma: AASW

Published: 24 November 2016

Courts are further traumatising victims of family violence by allowing perpetrators to continue to abuse women through the process, says Vice President of the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW), Christine Craik.

This International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women/White Ribbon Day, the AASW is calling for a significant review of the Australian court system to make sure the signs, impacts and complexities of family violence are properly addressed by the courts.

“We know of instances where perpetrators are using the system to further abuse and control women and children. Especially in relation to contested cases and where custody becomes a factor,” said Ms Craik. “By failing to adequately intervene, the courts perpetuate the abuse at a systemic level.”

Ms Craik added that the tragic irony is, in seeking justice through the courts, the victims are often exposed to a further entrenchment of the abuse.

“The court system needs to better understand the dynamics of family violence and the nuances of coercive control. Social workers hear countless stories from victims who are actively discouraged from disclosing family violence information, or when they do, are accused of exaggeration or manipulation,” she said.

“This not limited to judges and lawyers; we need greater training in family violence for all professionals within the court system, including family therapists whose reports carry a lot of weight in the decisions made by the courts.”

Accessing legal representation in the court system is also difficult for victims of family violence with the ongoing lack of adequate Legal Aid funding. Limited financial and Legal Aid resources often lead women to represent themselves against their perpetrator, who frequently has greater economic resources and therefore better access to legal representation.

“As well as discriminatory, this situation allows perpetrators to continue to abuse the victim within the court process,” said Ms Craik. She says the AASW is calling on states, territories and the federal government to commit to working together to significantly improve the system.

The Australian Association of Social Workers represents over 10,000 professional social workers, many of whom practice on the front line of family violence. Read more about social work practice and family violence in the spring issue of Social Work Focus magazine and in this AASW position statement.

To arrange an interview with Christine Craik, please contact Emma Pegrum, Media and Marketing Manager on P 02 6199 5011 M 0408 200 191.

AASW - Australian Association of Social Workers