Evelyn's story - helping a victim of family violence be heard in the justice system
When IMCL's family lawyer, Jess, first met Evelyn at our family violence duty lawyer service, she was visibly distressed. Teary and trembling, she struggled to tell her story.
Jess learnt that Evelyn had endured years of economic, physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband, and was hoping to vary her family violence intervention order so that he could no longer see their two young children.
People experiencing family violence often have a myriad of interconnected legal and non-legal problems arising out of the abusive relationship. Evelyn was no exception.
She had developed severe anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, leading to a number of mental health interventions and hospitalisations. During one of these episodes while she was unwell, she incurred several fines.
After leaving the property she shared with her ex-partner, Evelyn was also experiencing homelessness and accumulating rental arrears because he wasn't paying rent and the lease was in her name. To make matters even worse, without taking into account the history his violence against her, Victoria Police charged Evelyn with a drug offence based on false accusations made by her ex-partner.
Every single one of these complex and serious legal issues were a direct result of Evelyn's experience of family violence and needed intensive, wrap-around legal support to be resolved.
Recognising this, IMCL family lawyer, Jess, went beyond her role as Duty Lawyer the day she met Evelyn and referred her through our Early Intervention Legal Service.
Working quickly, we were able to begin advising Evelyn on her criminal law, fines and family law problems. We also connected her with our financial counsellor, located on-site at IMCL's office, to manage the crippling debt that her ex-partner had left her with.
Evelyn's most immediate problem, however, was her ex-partner's attempt to have their children removed from her care through family law proceedings. She was naturally terrified at the prospect of her children living with their father, given the years of violence he had perpetrated against her in their presence.
'It was one of the worst things that's ever happened to me... my kids are so important to me,' Evelyn told us.
To avoid Evelyn being re-traumatised by having to tell her story all over again, we legally represented her in the family law matter. With our help, she was able to obtain orders for the children to remain living with her and spend time with their father under safe conditions. We also successfully negotiated a final intervention order with her ex-partner, avoiding a hearing where Evelyn would have been forced to give evidence.
Our criminal lawyer, Lloyd, then secured a diversion order for Evelyn's drug offence and had the fines she had incurred while unwell and experiencing family violence waived.
All together, we have assisted Evelyn with six separate matters. Meeting and helping Evelyn, who didn't know she could access legal help, was only made possible by the funding we receive for our Duty Lawyer and Early Intervention Legal Service.
With this difficult period of her life behind her, Evelyn has been able to look forward, focussing on her children, her mental health and regaining employment.
Speaking with IMCL about the help she received from our lawyers, Evelyn told us that 'Jess did so much to help... She was always so empathetic and kind. The lawyers really put their heart into it. I will forever be grateful.'