Make it safer for women to achieve justice!
Do you want to make the criminal justice system safer for women and their children impacted by domestic and family violence?
- outlaw direct cross-examination of domestic violence complainants by their accused;
- provide for all domestic and sexual violence matters to be heard in closed court proceedings;
- provide right of access to audio-visual link facilities to give evidence in both domestic and sexual violence matters;
- increase funding for women’s domestic violence court advocacy services to support women through domestic violence hearings; and
- require domestic, family and sexual violence matters to be heard by specialist magistrates with specific knowledge and expertise in dealing with such matters in accordance with the standards set out in the National Domestic and Family Violence Bench Book.
What’s the problem?
Right now, the criminal justice system in NSW can be traumatic and unsafe for women and their children to give evidence of the violence and abuse they have experienced. Women may be directly cross-examined by the person who has abused them, and are not given right of access to audio-visual equipment to give evidence in a safe and secure environment.
Further, whilst women’s domestic violence court advocacy services are funded to staff safety rooms and provide support and advocacy during apprehended domestic violence order and domestic violence charge first mentions, they are not funded to provide these supports during the actual hearing.
Women report the experience of attending court to give evidence without these safety mechanisms and support in place to be highly re-traumatising and unsafe. Many women decide it is simply too frightening and do not wish to go through with it. However, if they do not attend, Police may issue a subpoena for their arrest. Those who do attend often report feeling as though the whole event exacerbated their trauma and many have great difficulty in even providing their evidence so as to achieve a just outcome.
Even where a woman attends court and is supported to give evidence, both her experience and the outcome can vary significantly depending upon which judicial officer is deciding upon the matter and their relative perspectives and understanding of the dynamics of domestic and family violence. This can result in variable outcomes when it comes to both safety and justice for the women and children who come before them.
For many women, the very thought of having to go through the criminal justice system as it currently operates makes them extremely fearful of police intervening in their assault in the first place, and this can cause women to go to great lengths to minimise and deny the violence and abuse they are experiencing and keep them trapped in a situation of grave danger and disempowerment.
What’s the solution?
We need to ensure our criminal justice system provides fairness to domestic, family and sexual violence complainants and not just accused persons. This means providing safety and support in the giving of evidence, and ensuring decisions are made by those with the specific knowledge and expertise to correctly identify the issues and make appropriate determinations.
Specialist women’s domestic and family violence workers supporting women in 117 courts across NSW have identified the following as the top priorities for reform:
- Outlawing direct cross-examination of domestic violence complainants by their accused;
- Providing for all domestic and sexual violence matters to be heard in closed court proceedings;
- Providing right of access to audio-visual link facilities to give evidence in both domestic and sexual violence matters;
- Increased funding for women’s domestic violence court advocacy services to support women through domestic violence hearings; and
- Requiring domestic, family and sexual violence matters to be heard by specialist magistrates with specific knowledge and expertise in dealing with such matters in accordance with the standards set out in the National Domestic and Family Violence Bench Book.
Women’s Safety NSW has also consulted directly with survivors of domestic, family and sexual violence, who support these reform initiatives. One survivor, Rada* offered the following insight:
“You just don’t want to get caught up in it all. I especially didn’t tell anyone about the sexual things that he would do to me. I just couldn’t handle it – going into all that detail with people that don’t understand and interrogate you about the whole thing. And then when you get there [to the hearing] there’s no-one there to support you, and you have to get up and he’s like standing right there with his family behind him and a whole lot of people I don’t even know. I was so scared. I couldn’t think. And it felt like no-one really understood. I think the worst thing was when the [magistrate] made it out like it was just as much my fault. What could I do?”
*Rada’s name has been changed for anonymity.
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