I attended court as a support person for a woman who had been assaulted in a domestic violence situation. It's a harrowing experience for her, and I wanted to offer my support - not knowing what I could do, or what I was expected to be, but being there anyway.
The court was an Australian local court, and first up, let me say that it was nothing like TV. The Aussie justice system is nothing like that of the US. And although I had been in regional court houses, this one was nothing like that either. I mean, the basic set up was the same, but the size of the room was vastly different. The room we were in was quite small and almost intimate.
As it was a domestic violence case, and the victim was testifying, the court room was closed. This meant the barrister, his off-sider and the defendant were there. The judge and his staff of 2 were there. The police prosecutor was there. And I was the only support person allowed to be in the room, along with the victim.
Protection of the victim, and making sure they were as safe as possible, was paramount. We were met outside court by Mission Australia's Court Support Staff. A staff member and her volunteers. They were lovely - friendly, knowledgeable, and reassuring. They helped us navigate the entry into the building (like an airport security check).
Then the Sheriffs had to determine how many people were allowed to support the victim. The men doing this were brisk, but the Court Support Staff were supporting multiple victims, and although they entered with us, made it clear that they were not to be counted as our numbers. There was a female Sheriff, who ensured a 'safe' room was opened for us, so we could walk briskly in and be in a safe space. This meant no inadvertent contact with the ex.
The police officers and prosecutor visited us in there and let us know what to expect, and what time frame this may take.
Other women and children were in this room - this safe space that attempted to make us comfortable. It had a small kitchen facility, no windows, and a locking door. Lounge chairs, plus hard chairs. Paintings and pictures by local schools and artists.
After the evidence-giving, the female Sheriff, rushed to re-open the room so we wouldn't be have to see anyone associated with the case as they left. The police prosecutor came down to the room to give thanks, to let the evidence-giver know that she did well, and to explain the next part of the process.
At every stage, the Mission Australia Court Support Person remained with us. She gave advice, answered questions, reassured us, and chatted to us like a friend.
It was a long day from 9 am to almost 5 pm. Much of it spent sitting and waiting. It was by no means a pleasant experience. BUT the women involved in this made the experience the best that it could be. Each person empathised, did extra to ensure safety and comfort, took time to explain and ask if we understood. At times, I felt as if we were encircled in a huge hug of feminine care and love.
This wasn't what I expected. This was so much more than I could have ever imagined.
I've struggled with the masculine-feminine balance (or imbalance) in our society. But this week, I got to see women changing the balance. Women working hard to support and protect other women. Women who are largely strangers to them, but they've made their career one about creating safe spaces for other women. That was such an incredibly powerful event to witness.
Violence against women should never happen, but unfortunately, it does. For the women who are reporting it and taking the matter to justice, thank goodness for the incredible women in the system who are helping, assisting, supporting, and trying to make things better.