Violence victims in fear of court

Eleanor was moved to tears when she saw her local MP Cathy McGowan look down the barrel of the camera and thank her for standing up for domestic violence victims in the legal system.

FIX THE SYSTEM: Cathy McGowan has called on Attorney General George Brandis to change the Family Law Act. Picture: MARK JESSER

FIX THE SYSTEM: Cathy McGowan has called on Attorney General George Brandis to change the Family Law Act. Picture: MARK JESSER

The Indi MP spoke in federal parliament on Monday, calling on Attorney-General George Brandis to change a law that allows perpetrators to cross-examine their victims during family law cases.

Eleanor was in that situation more than four years ago and has been advocating to stop others being subjected to the same anxiety of being questioned by their abusers.

“To get to the point where it’s got to federal parliament is an amazing achievement,” she said.

She had spent years firstly talking to Sophie Mirabella, who she said was very supportive as a local member, and then Ms McGowan.

Ms McGowan said changing the Family Law Act  should be a priority for both sides of politics.

"Many victims are living in fear in their own homes and imagine the circumstance where a victim of such violence finally gets out of that situation, gets the children out as well, but is exposed to further violence by their abuser in the family court system," she told parliament.

"Here we have traumatised and broken victims of family violence being exposed to the violence all over again."

Ms McGowan raised the example of Eleanor, who first spoke of her struggles to The Border Mail earlier this year.

"I would like to say thank you to Elenor for her courage in sharing the story and I take her call with pride to this house," she said.

Eleanor was watching the debate in Canberra online from her laptop.

She said she is determined to fight for women who feel they have to give up legal proceedings to avoid their attackers in the courtroom.

“It’s been dismissed as a minor issue,” she said.

“I felt that it was a massive slap in the face when I was cross-examined.”

Hume Riverina Community Legal Service principal lawyer Sarah Rodgers said she supported the change in law, but called on the government to allocate more funding to make it work.

She said perpetrators feel they have to represent themselves in court because they cannot get access to funding.

“We know that sometimes people settle their case because they’re just too daunted by the process of going through a family violence trial,” Ms Rodgers said.

“There’s just too many people self-represented in the system.”