Trauma-informed lawyering for victims of violent crime

13 Dec 2023

Every year we provide trauma-informed legal help to survivors of family violence and sexual assault and assist them to navigate complex State and Territory funded victim compensation schemes.

Since 2003, we have assisted 717 survivors of family violence and sexual assault access $13,169,013.45 in statutory compensation and support. Our work addresses a significant area of unmet legal need, especially for women, children and young people who are disproportionately impacted by such violence. Having representation often means our clients are better informed and receive better outcomes.

This year, we lodged 6 appeals to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal to advocate for a more beneficial approach by Assessors. While most of these matters settled by consent, one proceeded to a hearing (FPS v Commissioner of Victims Rights).

FPS survived long-term family violence. Like many of our clients, she sought help and attended free counselling from a mental health social worker. We helped FPS apply for victims support, on the basis that she had suffered harm amounting to grievous bodily harm. At both the primary decision and internal review stage, the Assessors did not accept that the harm amounted to grievous bodily harm, because FPS was only supported by a social worker and did not have medical records showing a formal diagnosis from a psychologist or psychiatrist.

At the hearing, the Tribunal Member held that a formal diagnosis of a psychological or psychiatric condition was not required to establish that FPS suffered grievous bodily harm and awarded her the highest payment for the violence she experienced. The decision in FPS aligns with the lived experience of our clients and reaffirms the beneficial purpose of providing support to victims of crime.

While compensation cannot undo trauma, it can go some way to helping our clients access treatment and rebuild their lives. This is especially so in some jurisdictions in which payments can be tailored to specific needs. This year, clients received payments for a range of supports, including gym memberships, hydrotherapy sessions, international airfares (to allow one client to return home to her family), and English lessons (to help another client escaping an abusive relationship to live and work independently in Australia).

Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.