VICTIMS of family violence face being forced to remain in abusive relationships if funding for a key outreach program cannot be found.
Women will no longer have access to the Women’s Legal Services Victoria (WLSV) video-conference outreach program Link from June 30 with the one-off grant due to run out.
The service, which provides a virtual legal service for women experiencing family violence in Victoria, is at risk despite praise by the Royal Commission into Family Violence it provided access to justice.
WLSV CEO Joanna Fletcher said the program should be a “no brainer” for ongoing funding from government.
“Technology offers new ways to overcome the disadvantage of distance. Family violence doesn’t have boundaries so neither should we,” she said.
“… It is innovative, cost effective and it works to tackle the issue of geographical family violence.”
Ms Fletcher said 254 women experiencing family violence across Victoria received help from the program in 2015.
Berry Street Family Violence Service senior manager Gayle Correnti said women living in regional and rural areas would feel the effect of the loss of the program most.
“The further away you are (from Melbourne), the opportunity to access legal advice becomes more difficult,” she said.
“It’s important to have access to independent advice that you can access easily by a video devise that is tailored to each person.”
Ms Correnti said she believes sometimes not enough thought is put into geographic issues.
“We think people are metrocentric and forget about how living locally can be a real problem. You don’t have that anonymity.”
She said it was frustrating a program that was proving successful could be disrupted over a lack of funds.
WLSV Outreach manager and senior lawyer Elisa Whittaker agreed, saying there was a potential risk women would not access any legal services if the program ended. She said she feared women would remain in violent relationships, particularly in country areas where many women were conflicted out of local services.
“What we’re trying to do is make legal advice accessible despite geographical barriers,” she said. Rather than cutting funds, Ms Whittake said the program should be replicated. The rate of family violence reported to police in Ballarat is 50 per cent higher than the state rate.
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