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Thursday, December 3, 2020

Legal services in high demand as domestic violence calls double

The Women’s Legal Centre ACT has issued double the advices on domestic and family violence matters during COVID-19, compared to this time last year.

In addition, the Centre has seen a significant increase in other family law matters, including divorce and care arrangements for children.

Women’s Legal Centre ACT CEO Elena Rosenman said the Centre expected to see a further increase in the need for legal advice on these matters.

“What we have started to see and anticipate more of are matters around divorce and separation,” she said.

“When we were in lockdown, many who are in relationships, particularly violent or controlling, wanted to understand the process around leaving those but didn’t have the resources when organisations were shut down.

“We have seen a significant increase in the number of women experiencing domestic and family violence. The number of advices we did doubled in the COVID period compared to last year.”

This week’s COVID-19 committee in the Senate heard from several women’s legal groups nationally experiencing the same trends, struggling to keep up with demand.

Ms Rosenman said while the Centre was well equipped for now, she feared a drop in funding and an anticipated increase in demand in the next 12 months would be difficult to manage.

“We have been pretty well resourced in the immediate period because we received some funding this year to help with additional staff. The real problem is projecting forward,” she said.

“We really expect the legal need for women will only increase over the next three to five years as the economy struggles and the main issue for us is next year we are facing a drop in funding levels.”

The Centre’s funding is set to drop by over 20% next year, and Ms Rosenman is hoping for an alternative to help the service continue to deliver its services.

“What we need is longer-term sustained funding to allow us to keep operating at this rate,” she said.

“One of the things we have been funded for this year is to put on an additional social worker and that’s important for our Centre.

“We try to provide our services with wholistic approach so it’s not just legal issues that our clients need to engage in but negotiating with their children’s school and housing.”

Ms Rosenman said the flow-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic would be felt for a long time.

“It’s really important that we stop looking at this situation as just a health crisis, but also as a longer-term issue,” she said.

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