Cathy Oddie knows first-hand that seeking protection from family violence through the legal system can be a traumatic and humiliating experience.
‘I had knowledge of systems, I had a supportive family, I’m literate, educated and I was continually facing barriers which made the system so hard to navigate,’ said Cathy.
That experience more than a decade ago has inspired Cathy to become a family violence advocate.
‘My experience made me reflect on how much harder it would be if English is your second language, or if you have a disability or you’re facing any number of other barriers.
‘It made me very frustrated and angry about how badly people are being let down.’
Cathy has recently been appointed as a lived experience expert on the steering committee for our work in support of Victoria’s specialist family violence courts.
‘This is a very important project to hear the voice of those who have lived with what family violence feels like and to go through ways to mitigate some of the risks and some of the trauma.’
‘You're coming into the court system as a lay person, dealing with a traumatic life situation, and you’re often confronted with professional legal staff and you’re expected to be able to navigate the system to the same degree. It’s a completely unfair situation.’
Cathy joins representatives from Victoria Legal Aid, the Federation of Community Legal Centres, Victoria Police, Women’s Legal Service Victoria, Djirra, Domestic Violence Victoria and the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria on the steering committee.
She’s looking forward to not only sharing her experience as a victim survivor of family violence, but, as a resident of Ballarat, she wants to ‘shine a light on the need for there to be improved responses in regional and rural areas.’
‘What I’ve really noticed is that it seems to be a postcode lottery in terms of the support services that are available to access in regional and rural areas, where a disproportionate number of family violence cases are occurring.’
A client first approach
Cathy’s appointment to the steering committee is just one way our specialist family violence courts project is putting the people who need help at the centre of our work to implement a new way of delivering legal services.
‘The creation of SFVCs present an opportunity to make changes to the legal process and system that we often don’t get the chance to do.'Leanne Sinclair, VLA’s Associate Director, Family Violence Response.
‘In collaboration with our colleagues from the Federation of Community Legal Centres we have designed a program of work to ensure we give people high-quality legal help that is easy to access, safe to use and integrated within the family violence system,’ said Leanne.
‘In addition to Cathy’s role on the steering committee, we’ll be engaging with men and women who have experience of the family violence system across all aspects of this work to ensure we’re creating the services they need, not just what we think they need.’
For her part, Cathy Oddie is clear on what would help to improve the system for the people who use it.
‘There needs to be a lot more support, before an actual court date occurs, so people have a real knowledge of what to expect on the day and what supports exist in a court environment.
‘Being proactively informed, rather than you having to find these things out by luck – almost like having someone who can be your court guide,’ said Cathy.
‘It’s never going to be a pleasant experience but going to court shouldn’t retraumatise you.
‘The opportunity through this project is to create a situation and a court experience which is not going to add to the trauma which so many people experience – and to also create a safer environment.’
Reviewed 14 April 2022