Specialist one-on-one support is being provided to victims of crime and abuse navigating the court system through a unique pilot program being trialled in Mount Gambier.
Written and photographed by Kate Hill.
Launched in mid-2022, Safer Spaces is designed to pair victims of crime with a professionally trained Victim Support Service (VSS) volunteer to assist them with much-needed support, including the preparation of Victim Impact Statements and a companion throughout the court process.
Mount Gambier’s Virginia Hill, also a former Victim Support Services coordinator, is one of the six locally based program volunteers and described the program as “unique to the region”.
“Through community and stakeholder consultation, VSS identified there a was a need for support in the local Magistrates Court through their existing Court Companion service, which currently sits within the District Court,” she said.
“We have professionally trained volunteers who accompany the person in court to be with them as they are waiting to give their evidence and to debrief them afterwards.”
With co-funding by OneFortyOne’s Community Grant Program and Soroptomists Mount Gambier, the service was able to set up a safe and discreet place for victims to meet with volunteers to prepare Victim Impact Statements.
Often presented in court, the statement is an opportunity for the victim to present their side of the story and describe the emotional, physical or financial impacts of the crime upon themselves and their families.
Mount Gambier’s Jenni Giles, who has worked as a VSS volunteer for 12 years, said assisting victims was very satisfying.
“I find it one of the most worthwhile things I’ve done,” she said. “I’ve assisted people to have a voice in court and although often the outcomes aren’t what they’d liked, at least they felt they’ve been heard.”
“Often court is not a pleasant experience for them, but they can feel it’s like a weight lifted from their shoulders.”
“Acknowledgement and recognition of the crime upon them and their families is enormously powerful for people,” added Mrs Hill.
VSS began in South Australia in 1979 following the Truro murders and the significant impact of the major crime upon victims.
Mount Gambier is the only city in South Australia to have the program, however VSS is considering how the pilot may be rolled out in other regions.
The program is funded until 2026 and may change and develop in response to local needs, Mrs Giles said.
“It’s not a one-size fits all program so it may evolve as time progresses,” she said.
“We’re looking to expand into the Magistrates and possibly the Family Court but there will be a need for additional funding there.”
In June, both Mrs Hill and Mrs Giles met with Attorney General Kyam Maher to discuss the program during a visit for Country Cabinet.
“The Attorney General is from Mount Gambier and he was very supportive of the pilot,” said Mrs Giles. “Kyam has a real feel for what’s needed here from a victims of crime perspective.”
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