What does life-changing support look like?

Community Legal Services are not just helpful, they can be the life-changing support a woman needs to leave an abusive relationship.

Content warning: Discussion of domestic and family violence.

It’s difficult to truly value the importance of a service you’ve never needed and can’t ever imagine needing, until a crisis hits. Domestic and Family Violence services are especially prone to being undervalued by most of us.  We don’t think about these services because we don’t plan on needing them. They just aren’t on our radar. So they can slip down the list of things we consider to be most valuable in our society.

I have worked in the Domestic and Family Violence Sector for over six years, and making referrals to a Community Legal Service is almost a daily occurrence. So trust me when I say that Community Legal Services are not just helpful, they can be life-changing. Let me give you an example - based upon real scenarios I’ve seen again and again - of how someone may need the vital services of community legal centre.

Jade is a young mum of two who two days ago left her partner Craig of five years after prolonged emotional abuse and physical abuse that has caused her to be hospitalised several times, leaving her terrified. She is currently residing with her kids at a woman’s shelter while working out what to do next. This is Jade’s first time leaving Craig, although she has wanted to many times in the past but has been too scared as Craig has said that if she leaves him he’ll make her regret it, no one will believe her, he’ll fight for full custody of the kids, and that he’ll tell the police that she’s crazy.  

After Jade leaves Craig, he makes a false Child Protection Notification and Child Protection Services try to make contact with Jade to investigate his claims that she has assaulted her children. Craig text messages Jade promising he’ll tell child protection he was lying if she just comes back to him. His family also send her threatening text messages demanding that she goes back to Craig and to stop talking to the police. Jade wonders if she should return to Craig.

Staff at the shelter ask Jade if she would like to meet with someone from the local Community Legal Centre who can talk with her about her options and she agrees. The Community Legal Centre representative provides Jade with information on options for her, including that she can make a statement to police, and she can take out a full non-contact domestic violence order so that Craig cannot contact her by any means.

The Community Legal Centre representative also informs Jade about the kind of assistance they can provide if the case goes to court and that they can represent her legally in court regarding the false child protection notification that Craig has made, if needed.

Jade begins to feel less fearful and more confident and decides not to return to Craig. With the Community Legal centre’s assistance, she takes out a Domestic Violence Order against Craig and makes a statement regarding current and past physical assaults.

Whilst Jade’s story is fictional, every single detail included is one that I have personally seen and heard time and again in the real lives of those experiencing domestic and family violence.  And the fact is, these real life stories can easily have another ending to the one that Jade’s has - and most likely will - without the services provided by Community Legal Services.

Community Legal Services are not just helpful, they can be the life-changing support a woman needs to leave an abusive relationship.

But inadequate funding is already limiting their work so much that Centres are forced to turn away 160,000 people a year - many of them women trying to escape violence.

And now, our Government is about to make things even harder, by recently proposing to cut another 30% of Community Legal Centres' funding.

That’s why Common Grace is joining with Fair Agenda in a joint petition calling our government to stop their proposed cuts to this vital service.

Please consider signing our petition to stop funding cuts to Community Legal Centres

For most people reading this, Community Legal Centres are probably a service that you don’t need and don’t plan on needing. I pray that this might always be the case.

But for those who experience domestic and family violence, they can be life-saving. So we’re asking you to put Community Legal Centres on your radar and let them be one of those services in our society that you consider most valuable and worthy of our protection.

Rachel Neary works in Alice Springs in the domestic and family violence sector.

If you or someone you know is experiencing family violence, you can call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 for 24/7 support. If you are in immediate danger, call 000. 

Do you need support?

The following Domestic and Family Violence support services are available:

Domestic & Family Violence