As Perth professionals queue to volunteer at a new legal clinic exclusively for domestic violence victims, the mother of one victim has voiced relief at finding somewhere to turn.
It is less than a month since Perth lawyer Shirley McMurdo launched what she says is Australia's first affordable domestic violence legal service, with heavily discounted rates on a sliding scale.
But she already has 22 clients, a team of helpers including psychologists, barristers, teachers, students and even a domestic violence survivor, and she is fundraising to represent women who can't pay at all.
Perth grandmother *Teresa said she had had a "soul-destroying" experience trying to protect her daughter and grandson.
"Doors were shut on us multiple times, as her ex didn't actually hit her; what he did do was intimidate, threaten, control, stalk and sexually assault her," she said.
While Teresa's daughter was already trying to protect her son through the court system, she could not afford a lawyer and has been facing her abuser alone.
When Teresa heard about the launch of Ms McMurdo's service she contacted the clinic.
"Because of previous experience my daughter was apprehensive that they would say her fear, and desire to protect her son, was unfounded and they wouldn't help," she said.
"[But] we were greeted with smiles and positivity. There was never a question of my daughter's fears. She was assured that what she had experienced wasn't right and that the best interests of her son were paramount.
"Once we left my daughter told me she felt very comfortable. Shirley was very easy to talk to. She felt believed, and that someone is finally in her corner. She was so relieved upon leaving that she finally smiled and took a deep breath and said, 'okay, now I can see a light.'
"For that alone I can never thank [them] enough.
"I know she has a long road to travel emotionally and mentally, but for her just knowing someone is there to fight for her and her son in court has helped her immensely."
Before launching the service, Ms McMurdo spent five years, out of 25 spent practising, working in 'affordable' clinics but she said domestic violence victims still fell through the cracks there.
Part of the reason for this was because most had assets controlled by their partners and could not afford $400-plus per hour fees. She said even those who could afford them ran from firm to firm for restraining orders, compensation, family court and property issues, constantly repeating traumatic stories afresh because nowhere offered all those services in-house.
Ms McMurdo said the result saw women, already at breaking point, completing legal paperwork alone, usually ineffectively, and facing their attackers in court unsupported like Teresa's daughter.
"After they exhaust all their savings, with no progress, they have no money and lawyers cease acting for them," she said.
Her Domestic Violence Legal Clinic in Morley charges clients on a sliding scale based on income and provides a one-stop shop for all relevant legal work.
It also provides a free support group and referrals to financial, psychological and accommodation support services.
Ms McMurdo's one non-volunteer staff member is a law and psychology student who has deferred studies for a year to manage administration and referrals.
Since WAtoday's story of the clinic's launch she has had 22 clients and four female barristers have signed up to work for token fees.
Perth domestic violence survivor Sarah Kelly, half-blinded in a 2011 public attack by her ex-husband, and a public condemner of a court system she said leaves women "reliving the nightmare over and over", has volunteered to lead the fortnightly support group which is open to anyone.
"Most of the ladies who are coming in are really excited about that," Ms McMurdo said.
"I am very excited that the community is welcoming a clinic like this.
A western suburbs primary school principal with legal qualifications, who contacted WAtoday after the launch article, has also signed up to help, while a Morley-based forensic psychologist is offering her 20 years of experience to the clinic, as well as access to her established low-cost and free therapy programs.
Ms McMurdo has had to create a register to keep track of the lawyers, both metropolitan and regional, university students and would-be fundraisers who want to help man the centre and expects she will need another full-time lawyer within six months.
She has now set up a funding pool to allow women with no money at all access legal representation, bond assistance and counselling.
"We want to any domestic violence victims out there to come forward for help regardless of means, even people who would never dream of seeing a lawyer," she said.
But she relies entirely on the income of her existing general firm for funding and needs further support to reach her goals, one of which is to expand into every Australian state.
Half of the fundraising proceeds go towards the victim support pool, paying the lawyers enlisted to help a $50 hourly rate and paying for clients' support services.
The other half of the money is for start-up costs for the clinic. This includes a security system in the office (featuring reinforced glass, pincode doors, security cameras and more) to keep staff and clients safe, signage, computers, a photocopier, internet and telephone system, insurance, legal and accounting software, an accountant, stationery, furniture for the support group and monthly overheads and remunerate solicitors and staff.
Anyone who can donate items or labour should contact email@example.com.
Any domestic violence victims needing legal assistance can contact Lucette or Ms McMurdo on firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are or someone you know is in a situation of domestic violence, call the Women's Domestic Violence Helpline on 1800 007 339 or the Men's Domestic Violence Helpline on 1800 000 599. If someone is in immediate danger, call police on 000.
*Name changed for safety reasons.