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Health-based legal service wins health equity award

Health-based legal service wins health equity award

By Karin Derkley

Access to Justice Guardianship Health 


"Learn to cook better"

That was the advice given by one religious leader to a victim of domestic violence.

Another woman was told, "It is your duty to submit". Others were pressured to stay in violent relationships, had excuses made for the abuser, and violence, even when extreme, trivialised.

Examples of faith responses to victims of domestic violence were given by Professor Marcia Neave, who led the Family Violence Royal Commission, at a Victoria University faith and governance conference in Melbourne last week.

In the session, Beyond the Royal Commissions: Best Practice for Faith-based Organisations, Professor Neave said victims looked to religious leaders for help.

"We were told … that people looked to their faith for support and encouragement and when that was not forthcoming … it often forced them to lose their faith, to leave the church.

"Sometimes we heard of fairly shocking responses by religious leaders who were obviously ill-informed.

"One woman asked her priest what she should do. He asked her when violence occurred. She said at meal times. He suggested she take a cooking class so she cooked better. It showed a complete lack of holding to account the abusive person and blaming the victim."

"Li wanted to protect her home and to draw up a will and a power of attorney to make sure that her children would be involved if she lost capacity. But her husband was very controlling and wouldn't take her to see a lawyer," Ms Hawthorne says.

Ms Hawthorne was able to get instructions from Li during one of her appointments, and brought in pro bono lawyers from Maddocks to help her prepare her will and advise her on protecting her share of the family home.

"She wouldn't have been able to get any legal help if it wasn't for this service," Ms Hawthorne says.

VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter says the Justice Connect cohealth partnership is a successful model for providing legal support for elderly people at risk of abuse and family violence - particularly those from disadvantaged communities.

"The project achieved fantastic results with an increased number of people referred to pro-bono legal support," she says. "By partnering with a health agency, Justice Connect was better able to reach this at-risk audience and the project was effective both as an intervention and in preventing further abuse and family violence."

The Seniors Law Health Justice Partnership was initially granted three years of funding by the Victorian Legal Services Board and is hoping for ongoing funding to support the service long term.

*Not her real name

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