Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Visit to an old friend opposed to domestic violence

Last night I was lucky enough to call in an old friend who was recovering from major surgery. Her prospects are good, thankfully.

Visiting her made me reflect as to how long it has been that I have been involved with domestic violence. This is because we became friends in trying to help stop domestic violence. My friend started a court based domestic violence service. It was and is designed to help women and children when the women need to go to court (and related matters) over domestic violence issues.

I first met my friend as long ago as 1992. I had formed the view that she had started the service back then- but it became a running joke that although she had undertaken work in the area from 1992, she did not start the service until 1993. I was there from the beginning, although I did not get formally involved on her committee until 1999.

Long after my friend retired from that service years ago, I continued on the committee, finally leaving there, due to my other commitments, only last year.

When I first met my now old friend, way back in 1992, I had already had 7 years of helping survivors of domestic violence. I hadn't intended this to be part of what I did as a lawyer, but I was confronted by the ugliness of what many women (and occasional men) had to go through in their home lives. I hadn't been subjected to domestic violence when I grew up. My parents loved each other to bits.

Domestic violence was and remains truly shocking. While we as a society have taken considerable strides in reducing rates and the severity of domestic violence, it still remains unacceptably high, especially among aboriginal communities, and homicides still happen, as we saw with the murder of Allison Baden-Clay, for example by her husband Gerard Baden-Clay. And just in case I am unclear- any domestic violence is unacceptably high. We are all entitled to live in safety and freedom, hopefully in loving, respectful relationships.

So I decided to do what I could to help end domestic violence. This desire on my part has led me to help found a domestic violence service (now 20 years old), chair the committee of a women's and children's refuge, and be on the board for several years of a charity seeking to end domestic violence.

But above all, in the midst of this personal commitment, I was seeking to do good in my role as a lawyer- and by those special skills and training, help protect those who have been the subject of domestic violence. Lawyers have the ability by virtue of their advocacy and skills to make real differences in the lives of their clients and those around them. Our job at its finest is not by the numbers- it is making real changes in the lives of people- whether in the day to day run of litigation, advocacy and negotiation, or in the longer term advocacy for change of legislation and systems to be fairer and consistent.

I also recalled last night how many years ago my friend and I had both worked with a young woman full of laughter and joy who had helped end domestic violence, until she in turn was forced to flee for her safety- before she was murdered by her former partner. A tragic, preventable loss.

Last night as I was visiting my friend, I reflected about how I have been blessed to have helped change lives for the better, by helping keep people safer, and that thankfully, no one has been killed on my watch. Hopefully that record will endure. 

No comments: