A family violence victim who was forced to come face-to-face with her former partner while waiting for her court case to be heard is calling for better separation of victims and perpetrators at Ballarat Magistrates’ Court.
The woman, who cannot be named for safety reasons, said she was left in the general waiting room and only taken into a side room when she had a panic attack.
Her former partner, who has since been convicted of assaulting a child in a separate matter, has forced the family into hiding, she said.
She said she encountered her former partner outside the courtroom before several court appearances, and had to be “pinned to the chair” by a family member to stop her fleeing in fear.
“The last time I was put in somebody’s office because he’d sent his new partner to keep an eye on me too, so I wasn’t just being watched by him I was being watched by the new partner as well and I had an anxiety attack,” she said.
“I think if I didn’t have my uncle I probably would have turned around and run home.”
Her story comes in the wake of the state government’s budget pledge to better protect victims and family members at court.
Ballarat’s will be one of two regional courts to become Specialist Family Violence Courts as part of a $130.3 million package unveiled in this month’s state budget. Specific details for upgrades at Ballarat Magistrates’ Court are unknown.
WRISC executive officer Libby Jewson said experiences where women had to face their perpetrator at court were “not uncommon” and at times workers had feared for the women’s safety.
“We are working hard to improve the safety for women including at the courts. I would like to see the fulfillment of the plans (announced in the state government budget) regarding more safe processes and places for women at the court.”
However lawyers on the country court circuit told The Courier this month the problem is even worse in the region’s smaller courthouses. Central Highlands Legal Centre acting principal lawyer Anita Rose-Innes said Stawell and Ararat Courthouse’ design often forced victims to come face-to-face with their perpetrator en route to the courtroom.
“It’s running the gauntlet past all these people with their supporters, saying things to you as you walk past. People can’t avoid each other and there simply are not enough private rooms.”