Violence against women is preventable, and yet it continues to destroy the lives of women and families in epidemic proportions. The statistics are not slipping. It is a widely misunderstood issue and people don’t realise how insidious it truly is – it doesn’t just impact the victims of violence but their families, workplaces, communities, and our economy. Working with victims of violence on a daily basis reminds me that it’s not a certain ‘type’ of woman who is susceptible, it doesn’t discriminate based on location, race, wealth, class or religion. This can happen to anyone.
After periods of volunteering in various community legal centres, working in the field of civil liberties, Alex Davis discovered her calling – assisting victims of violence. She now works as a solicitor, managing casework and offering advice to women about family law and domestic violence. She combines this work with her experience and expertise in new media and technology to create a strong online presence at Women’s Legal Services (WLS) NSW. WLS is a not-for-profit, non-government organisation with, on average, 15 lawyers servicing all of NSW. The centre operates from a feminist perspective to foster legal and social change to redress inequalities faced by women in the legal system. Alex is a project manager and manages two specific initiatives.
The first is ‘Ask LOIS’, the Legal Online Information Service. Through a free secure website, Alex offers online legal advice, training and resources to community workers across NSW who work with women experiencing or trying to escape violence. She conducts fortnightly interactive training and education webinars on legal topics such as family law, discrimination, sexual and domestic violence, Apprehended Violence Orders (AVOs), child protection, child support, practical skills development and client management. This is intended to be a one-stop-shop and back-up service for community workers on the frontline, providing the training and support they need to better assist their clients, no matter where they are.
The second initiative Alex has developed is ‘Speak Up to End Violence Against Women’, a mobile website which has the functionality and feel of a phone app without needing to be downloaded on to a device, allowing safe access for the user. ‘Speak Up’ is a comprehensive Australia-wide directory where individuals or organisations can find help for women trying to escape violence. By simply entering a postcode or suburb, the user will be given a comprehensive list of local services that can support women in need, such as accommodation, counselling, court support, legal, domestic violence and sexual assault specialists, family support, financial assistance, health and police. There are also services for perpetrators. ‘Speak Up’ helps people to become aware of the different types of help available to them, and to know they are not alone if they want assistance. The site also features an emergency exit functionality in case a woman needs to escape quickly.
The second function of ‘Speak Up’ is to facilitate and develop a national conversation about violence against women and to put this at the forefront of the public agenda. People are invited to finish the sentence ‘we could reduce violence against women if…’ All responses are published anonymously on the website and are collated by the organisation. These comments are then used to inform practical recommendations to the government on legal reform and implementation strategies to reduce violence against women. The project is independent of government but WLS hopes it will complement the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010 -2022.
Alex stresses it is important to encourage collaboration between different organisations and groups in the community to ensure there is a holistic approach to ending violence against women. She believes there has been a recent shift in the media, with more light being shone on the issue of violence against women. Her hope is that ‘Speak Up’ will encourage more people to engage with this issue and contribute their voices.