Tech-awareness crucial in domestic violence cases
Lawyers cannot keep their 'heads in the sand' when it comes to combating the use of technology to perpetrate domestic violence, says the Legal Services Commission of South Australia.
Victims of domestic violence are increasingly turning to legal aid professionals after being abused over email, text and social media, according to the Commission.
Between 80 and 90 per cent of domestic violence matters coming to the Commission involve harassment or stalking facilitated by technology.
“It is imperative that lawyers working with domestic violence victims have a broad understanding of the role that technology can play in abuse,” said Commission director Gabrielle Canny (pictured below).
“Technological change is reshaping the world, and that includes the legal profession. We can’t put our head in the sand and ignore the way digital developments are altering offending and the legal arena.”
Ms Canny said that lawyers are not expected to be tech experts but they must be broadly familiar with the ways technology can be used by perpetrators.
“Fortunately, a number of agencies that assist domestic violence victims have online information about abuse via technology – and that information can enlighten victims and lawyers,” she said.
Ms Canny said that lawyers can only help domestic violence victims facing these tech-related challenges if they understand the issues.
“We regularly find that people seeking our help don’t immediately divulge that their legal problems also include domestic violence,” she said.
Asking questions about the client’s personal circumstances is important to establish whether domestic violence is a factor, she continued.
“Likewise, it is important to ask questions about how a perpetrator communicates with the victim and the extent to which the perpetrator is keeping tabs on the victim’s movements.”
These sorts of questions can help lawyers determine if abuse via technology is an issue that needs to be addressed.
“For example, sometimes it’s only when questioned that a victim will mention, ‘oh yes, they’re sending me dozens of awful texts every day – and it’s weird how they always relate to where I've been staying that week’," explains Ms Canny.
“We can help victims by doing what lawyers have always done: gaining an understanding of the subject and asking questions of those we seek to help.”
Rosie Batty (pictured top right), Australian of the Year, said she was pleased to see the Commission’s staff are keeping pace with the new and emerging technological challenges.
“Violent relationships aren't limited to just black eyes,” she said. “It is vital for South Australian victims to know how to counter this growing trend of abuse involving technology.”