25 November – 10 December, every year. These are the UN 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence. This year’s theme is Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect.
I am a Lawyer, it’s a big part of who I am and I talk about it a lot. Because of this, I’ve attracted a handful of people like me who (sometimes) like to check out what I’m doing on this page. I thought that, given the theme of this year’s 16 Days of Activism is all about the grassroots, I’d prepare a list all about how people like us can make life just a little bit easier for survivors of Domestic and Family Violence. So here it is, Three Ways that Early Career Lawyers Can Help Survivors of DV to Thrive…
1. Volunteer (it really can be anywhere!)
From what I have seen, lawyers of any level of experience are able to volunteer at their local Neighbourhood Centre or Community Legal Centre in a variety of roles. I know that at smaller centres, lawyers of any PAE are able to give advice to vulnerable locals and at some of the bigger centres, lawyers of a newer PAE level are able to participate in certain clinic programs (rather than a broader advice role).
A commitment at a CLC is never usually more than one evening a month, some may even let you volunteer in a corporate role and do that as and when you please. CLCs are the last line of defence for women and children who have lived through or are living with DV. As DV often involves financial control, survivors often don’t have access to their own resources to seek help. For others, they can’t risk engaging a private firm too early as they are still safety planning.
Your legal experience and training would also make you an invaluable volunteer at non-legal charities. Think about how you can apply your skills for good in your local area from anything to governance, administration, project planning or just plain old ‘getting on the tools’. Think- women’s refuges, opportunity shops, food services, children’s school holiday programs, local libraries, church groups. It is safe to say that any forward-facing, community level service is also doing work in the DV space as many women in need are also experiencing a myriad of other social issues.
2. Be Trauma Informed
Trauma Informed Practice for professional services is the skill of understanding and being able to respond to a client with trauma that sits before you. Whilst I believe this is absolutely crucial for family lawyers, we must never forget that survivors of DV have to live a double life. Survivors of DV have the full spectrum of legal problems that anyone else does- survivors will buy a home, need a Will, need tax advice and they could be mistreated at work like anyone else could- all while fighting to be loved at home.
It’s the understanding gained from Trauma Informed Practice that is truly magic, trauma influences everything that these women do and understanding the signs of this could have the benefit of simply making the day that they see you that little bit easier, to even saving a life.
Lawyers (no matter the practice area) have the incredible privilege of being let in to their client’s lives and building a relationship like no other. With that privilege comes a responsibility to do no harm and formal Trauma Informed Practice training is the key.
3. Support Survivors Who Are Doing Awesome Things (and the people that support them)
We have access to firm budgets for training days, client gifts, client events and so much more. Consider these things next time you are helping to make a purchasing decision-
- Need a gift for a client or colleague? Mettle Gifts employs women who are experiencing homelessness due to domestic and family violence. As a bonus, everything they sell is divine;
- Thinking of making a donation in lieu of a gift, do you refuse to do another Secret Santa shop, ever again? The Toowoomba Women’s Collective are a great choice and they even run a housing service called Protea Place;
- Are you planning a conference or training day? Consider inviting a survivor of DV along to speak. There are countless amazing women who have created a professional speaking business for themselves, following their experiences, and I just know that input would be invaluable to your firm;
- Are you planning a team or client event? Why not direct those funds to buying a few tables at next year’s Dancing CEOs event! I can personally vouch for the fact it is way too much fun, but it is also one of the key events that funds the Women’s Legal Service here in Queensland.
There really is so much that can be done in this space. 2020 only exasperated the pandemic of Gender Based Violence, and while governments did commit to further support, we should never forget that we too can make a difference to the lives of women who are unsafe.
I’ll leave this blog with this poem by Rupi Kaur-
my heart is beating
and I am breathing
and nothing anybody has ever done
has changed that