WA: New Geraldton court targets Aboriginal domestic violence
Thursday, 09 August, 2007
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*This is a media release issued by Attorney General Jim McGinty
A new court in Geraldton will give Aboriginal people caught up in domestic violence more support to resolve their issues and the opportunity to change the patterns of abuse in their family.
Attorney General Jim McGinty said the specialised family violence court would address high levels of violence in indigenous families in Geraldton and surrounding areas.
"The Barndimalgu Court will give offenders the opportunity to admit their guilt and be given support and training that will help them stop abusing their family members in the future," Mr McGinty said.
Offenders who have pleaded guilty in the regular Magistrate's Court, and agree to take part in the Barndimalgu family violence court, will need to complete a six month rehabilitation program designed to address their violent behaviour.
"At the end of the process, the offender's progress will be assessed by the case management team before the offender returns to the family violence court for sentencing by the magistrate.
"Respected Aboriginal community members will sit in court with the magistrate at the time of sentencing, giving invaluable advice and cultural insight into the cases, as well as providing the opportunity for cultural 'shaming'.
"But the court is not a soft option. If offenders do not comply with the strict conditions imposed upon them, the court can terminate the program and consider this in the sentence handed down."
The court is part of the State Government's focus on reducing domestic violence in Western Australia.
It follows the introduction of new laws in 2004 which made it easier and safer for people to report domestic violence. Since then, there has been a marked increase in the number of cases reported to police.
Prior to the changes, there were 11,000 reported incidents per year in WA. In 2006 there were 22,205 reported offences of which 53 per cent were prosecuted.
The legislation also saw the introduction of police orders which enabled police to immediately remove violent offenders from the home for 24 or 72 hours. In 2005, there were 5,280 police orders and by the end of this year, it is expected that there will have been about 7,000 orders given.
Another significant change was the introduction of a specific restraining order for domestic violence. At the end of 2004, there were 9,818 Violence Restraining Orders (VRO) issued by the courts. By the end of this year, it is expected that there will have been 12,000 VROs issued.
Aboriginal women living in regional WA were 33 times more likely to be a victim of domestic violence than their non-Aboriginal counterparts.
Geraldton MLA Shane Hill welcomed the new court. "There is a significant problem in Geraldton and applications for Violence Restraining Orders have risen from around 39 a month in 2005 to the current rate of approximately 64 a month," Mr Hill said.
"An average of 654 police orders are issued in the Mid-West Gascoyne District each month.
"This court is a major step towards breaking the cycle of violence in our local Aboriginal families."
The court program would deal with around 50 to 60 referrals a year, with the capacity to deal with more if required. The court's name, Barndimalgu, literally meant 'to fix things and make them good' in the Wajarri language group.
While completing the program, offenders would be intensively managed by a team made up of staff from Community Justice Services, WA Police, Victim Support Services, program providers and, if relevant, the Department of Child Protection, advocate services and other local non-government and government services.
The court would operate in a similar way to family violence courts in the metropolitan area which catered for indigenous and non-indigenous offenders. The court would be based at the Geraldton court complex in Marine Terrace and would sit for the first time on Monday.