Domestic violence court could help victims recover: Families ACT forum
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Domestic violence court could help victims recover: Families ACT forum

Creating a specialised domestic violence court focusing on victim welfare could help address the "most important social issue in Australia", an ACT forum has heard.

About 40 people working at the coalface tackling domestic violence shared their knowledge at the Families ACT forum on Tuesday in a bid to identify good practice.

Families ACT executive officer Will Mollison said often victims didn't get the support they needed when it reached the legal system with measures like restraining orders sometimes escalating violence.

"If you view domestic violence through the lens of a control issue sometimes that can cause it to escalate," he said.

"In extreme cases we see the tragic consequences where women are killed when they try to protect themselves."

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ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner John Hinchey, Australian Federal Police Jo Cameron, Domestic Violence Crisis Service executive director Mirjana Wilson and YWCA Canberra CEO Frances Crimmins were on the forum's panel.

Mr Mollison said one suggestion was to follow US experiments with "victim-centred" domestic violence courts which could become the first step of recovery for victims.

"When we're talking about court we're addressing the offender and the offence, it's all about the men which is not necessarily in the best interests of the woman," he said.

"Jo Cameron said if you want a convincing argument for what court does to a woman, sit in court and see if it's a positive environment.

"A rape victim gets abused again by having to retell their story."

Mr Mollison said police were called to deal with domestic violence when it reached crisis point.

"People want the violence to stop but they don't want it to go to court," he said.

"Law is not necessarily the best way of addressing domestic violence."

Mr Mollison said people often looked to governments to fix domestic violence but a "top down" approach would not work and the complex issue required community ownership with a web of services providing better coverage.

But more government resources were needed, he said, and the sector would have liked greater continuity in funding from the recent ACT budget.

"It causes intergenerational damage," he said, with children growing up in a domestic violence environment often going on to become perpetrators.

"Apart from any ethical or emotional issues it has a huge economic impact… as well as policing and hospitalisation there's all the hidden costs like the loss of productivity… with women being unable to work."

Mr Mollison said an apparent spike in domestic violence was due to a greater understanding of its definition, beyond the physical to include the often more long-term harm of psychological, verbal and financial abuse.

"Once we broaden it, people suddenly realise 'that's me'," he said.

"The demand grows as the awareness increases.

"We wish it was a temporary spike but it's not."

Clare Colley is Head of Audience Engagement at The Australian Financial Review. She was previously an online editor, arts editor and journalist at The Canberra Times.

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