Domestic violence the focus

Alicia PereraPilbara News
Jessica Fox is PCLS' first family and domestic violence solicitor.
Camera IconJessica Fox is PCLS' first family and domestic violence solicitor. Credit: Pilbara News, Alicia Perera

Pilbara victims of domestic violence have an extra resource to turn to, with what is believed to be the region’s first lawyer specialising in the field having begun at the Pilbara Community Legal Service.

With a background in family law, Jessica Fox was recruited by PCLS last month to be the service’s first family and domestic violence solicitor under new funding.

Her work will involve providing legal advice and representation to people on violence and family restraining order applications, as well as family law matters including separation, divorce and custody disputes.

Ms Fox said with the Pilbara’s high rate of domestic violence, which she estimated was about double that of the metropolitan area, there was a great need for a specialised domestic violence lawyer in the region.

“It differs to the metropolitan area in that women here are affected differently, and that’s because of the geographical concerns and the limited access to services,” she said.

“I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that there’s a very big drug and alcohol culture in the Pilbara ... as well as financial hardship.”

The new legal role is Karratha-based but Ms Fox will do outreach work in the region, possibly on a circuit of the Pilbara’s main towns and communities.

Another important part of her position will be working with PCLS’ two domestic violence victim advocacy workers and agencies including Mission Australia, the Department of Communities and local police to offer a service which streamlines help and reduces trauma for victims.

“We’re trying to do a wrap-around service for non-legal and legal assistance,” she said.

“Most of the time, women don’t just need a lawyer, they also need housing, they need financial counselling, and I want to be that person that can guide them in the right direction along with our domestic violence support staff.”

She cited a case last month in which a multi-agency case management team had to relocate a mother and children out of Karratha quickly because of domestic violence, and local businesses REFAP and Shelf Cleaning pitched in with the clean-up, as an example of the good work organisations working together could do to help victims. Ms Fox said domestic violence lawyers were starting to be hired as new specialist roles at WA metropolitan community legal centres including in Fremantle and Gosnells, and it was good to see the Pilbara catching on.

One month in, she said her client list was already really busy.

“It just goes to show that there was a need for it,” she said.

For more information, contact the PCLS Karratha office on 9185 5899.

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