Domestic violence victims in Victoria finding legal aid via Skype, service says
A family violence legal service in Melbourne says an increasing number of women are using its virtual outreach program, accessing lawyers through the teleconferencing service Skype.
The Victorian Women's Legal Service started the Link program 15 months ago, and since then it has seen more than 340 women across regional Victoria.
It is hoping to expand into other areas of the state.
The service's principal lawyer, Helen Matthews, said they were helping women get timely access to legal advice, in refuges or even in hospital beds.
"We had one occasion where it was important for that person to receive advice [at] that particular time — and that's a really important time because if someone's in hospital ... generally that means they're not able to be caring for their children or their own particular possessions so it's a great flexibility," she said.
She said getting legal advice early could help women facing violent situations, in particular if they want to apply for an intervention order.
"If they can obtain that order early then it may well be that it's the violent person who's excluded, say, from the family home, rather than the women who need to flee the family home to find accommodation in refuges," she said.
"So that's a crisis situation and it's a legal response to that crisis situation."
Skype 'more personal' than a telephone
Geelong woman Sarah said she dated a man and was assaulted by him twice, before he began manipulating her through the court system.
"He went and put orders on, you know, my friends and family and then withdrew them at the last minute because he had no evidence. So, yeah, it was ... pretty traumatic," she said.
Sarah got help from a legal aid lawyer in Geelong but felt he did not really listen to her.
Through a local women's service, she was put on to a specialist women's family violence lawyer in Melbourne via Skype.
"She was caring and gave me lots of information and choices, whereas my male lawyer that I was seeing ... wanted to get rid of me, basically," she said.
"[Skype is] more personal [than a telephone]. Being able to see her face and eyes."
The link-up service costs about $130,000 a year and is funded through the Victorian Legal Aid and the Legal Service Board.
Ms Matthews said while she would love to secure ongoing funding, the service did not replace face-to-face legal help.
Sarah agreed, saying there needed to be more of that in Geelong.
"There needs to be a female lawyer here to help women, definitely," she said.
Ms Matthews said the service was hoping to expand into other states.