Challenging sexual, domestic & family violence

By Loren Katafono


With International Women’s Day (IWD) approaching on 8 March 2021, experiences of sexual assault and rape are receiving increased media attention. While IWD is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women globally, this year’s theme encourages us to #ChooseToChallenge the gender biases and inequalities women still face today. I also want to acknowledge those people who have been killed or harmed as a result of Sexual, Domestic and Family Violence (SDFV).


Responding to SDFV in a socio-legal setting

At Marrickville Legal Centre (MLC), victim-survivors of SDFV are informed of the social and legal systems that impact their lives, as well as the different avenues available to them. Clients are at the core of MLC’s work and, as the Domestic and Family Violence (DFV) Worker, I am pleased to work alongside people who equally value the importance of social justice.

COVID-19 raised concerns on how this crisis disproportionately impacted the most vulnerable people in our community, including women experiencing SDFV. As a frontline essential service, MLC promptly transitioned to remote service delivery so our clients, volunteers and staff were safe and supported. When restrictions on movement were introduced, we broadcasted critical messages to our community, including that it was a reasonable excuse for SDFV victim-survivors to attend our Domestic Violence Support Service (DVSS) if they felt unsafe at home.

DV tip 1 MLC
MLC COVID-19 domestic violence legal tip, 2020


One of the recurring questions I have been asked over the last 12 months has been: “Have you noticed an increase in SDFV at your service?” Anecdotally amongst professionals, no experience was alike and, as a newcomer to the industry, I had minimal work experience to compare this to. Statistically, the Australian Institute of Criminology determined that the economic impacts, social distancing restrictions and increased isolation at home associated with COVID-19 contributed to an increase of SDFV. However, it is important to note that connecting the consequences of COVID-19 to the prevalence of SDFV overlooks the ongoing gendered issues concerning this crime. Whilst awareness of SDFV has increased – SDFV has always and will continue to occur beyond this pandemic.


From challenge comes change

Recognising how far we have come as women must also be considered with the intersectional injustices we still face today. As International Women’s Day recognises:

Some women feel they have not encountered discrimination or harassment, or faced systemic barriers to their success, but that’s not the experience of all women. IWD is an opportunity to acknowledge the compounded challenges faced by women […] and stand in partnership with them […] On International Women’s Day we remember that as long as one woman faces discrimination, harassment, inequality or oppression, we all do.

MLC strives for positive and lasting change in our community. We aim to resolve any immediate legal issues our clients face and ensure they are supported with the resources and services they need to improve their lives.


Hillary’s story

Hillary is a 34-year-old mother to a 3-year-old girl. Hillary was physically and sexually assaulted by her ex-husband. He was found not guilty by the court for these criminal charges. Hillary approached our Centre last year as her Apprehended Domestic Violence Order (ADVO) was due to expire and she wanted advice around family law.

Hilary was connected to the Domestic Violence Support Service and Family Law Service, who helped Hillary to engage with Legal Aid NSW for family law representation.

The next important step was to extend Hillary’s ADVO, and Domestic Violence Safety Assessment to make sure concerns for her child were reported to Department of Communities and Justice.

Hillary was assisted to understand and prepare to navigate the court process. Following Hillary’s mention date, she was granted a 5-year extension of her ADVO.

Finally, Hillary received help submitting a successful Victims Services application for counselling, financial assistance and a recognition payment of $10,000. Hillary is now attending English classes at her local TAFE and is relieved to have safeguards in place to live free from violence.


Through their triumphs and challenges, my hope for SDFV victim-survivors like Hillary is to see lasting change. I recognise the strengths and improvements needed in our systems. With ongoing victim-survivor consultation, expertise from all disciplines, and resolutions sought within and beyond legislation – we will get closer. The momentum against SDFV must continue beyond IWD and post-pandemic until it ends.


Do you need sexual, domestic, or family violence support? We can help.

Loren Katafono is a DFV Worker at Marrickville Legal Centre’s Domestic Violence Support Service. As a social work graduate, Loren says she feels privileged to establish her career in the socio-legal sector. The Domestic Violence Support Service works closely with MLC’s legal and tenancy teams, as well as local agencies to support clients who have experienced sexual, domestic and family violence (SDFV).