Referral to support services

On some occasions it may be appropriate for courts to refer victims and perpetrators of domestic and family violence to in-court and external support services. While it is the responsibility of the perpetrator to stop or prevent domestic and family violence, there may be a range of services available for both the victim and the perpetrator. Such support services may include providing assistance with filling out forms, legal advice, interpreting and translating, counselling, housing, substance misuse, mental health and perpetrator interventions. The extent and efficacy of court referrals are significantly influenced by key systemic factors including a party’s understanding of their rights and willingness to seek help, their experience of vulnerability, and the availability of services tailored to their needs.

Research indicates that there are certain groups in the community that are less likely to access support services for particular reasons. For example, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex people may fear blame or disbelief or the threat of being outed; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may feel misunderstood or marginalised by approaches that are not culturally or historically sensitive, or be at risk of homelessness due to having to leave an unsafe home occupied by the perpetrator; culturally and linguistically diverse people may not be able to recognise domestic and family violence by reference to their cultural norms and experiences, language and social barriers may prevent them from accessing the information they need, and they may fear engagement with the Australian legal and immigration systems; and people with disability may be deterred by their physical isolation, prior negative experiences in seeking help such as not being believed or taken seriously, or a lack of awareness and skills on the part of service providers in responding to their specific needs. Courts may be able to play a role in promoting awareness of appropriate support service in particular cases or in linking parties to services where appropriate referrals can be made.

Many experiences are common to victims across diverse groups and inform their reluctance to seek help, including a lack of available local services, a lack of financial resources, feelings of shame and embarrassment, fear of the perpetrator and the potential for retribution, fear of homelessness, fear of child protection services removing children from their care, discrimination and stigma. Where victims face multiple challenges, they are likely to experience multiple barriers to service provision.

Studies have shown that the most positive outcomes for victims in the court process are linked to well-coordinated and prioritised service provision or referral, effective liaison between service providers, and services that are tailored to victims’ needs and resources. It is widely acknowledged by Australian courts that these support services are vitally important to the protection and recovery of victims of domestic and family violence; however their capacity to deliver access is constrained by court resources, especially in smaller and more remote registries.