We commenced the Stepping Stones project to assist women experiencing family violence and financial hardship.
Women in Australia are still at significantly higher risk of poverty than men. Women who experience family violence are at even greater risk of financial hardship than women who have not experienced violence. The major cause of homelessness for women is family violence.
In addition, through our direct legal services for women, we observed that the legal system, financial institutions and essential service providers were failing to recognise the impact of family violence on financial stability. We observed there was no recognition of the ability of the perpetrator to use poverty (or the threat of poverty) to control a victim. Neither is there recognition of why it would be difficult or even impossible for the victim, in that context, to regain economic security, or in some cases even flee family violence.
In 2014 we established a new holistic model of service, bringing together financial counselling with family law legal advice.
We developed new ways of advocating for our clients – pushing courts, government departments and creditors to take into account our client’s experience of family violence and financial hardship when making decisions that impact their economic well-being.
As at September 2015 we had assisted over 200 women through the Stepping Stones project, and among other achievements, we have succeeded in having their collective debt reduced by over $300,000. One quarter of these women had debt that was accrued by an abusive partner against their wishes, without their knowledge, without understanding or under duress.
In late 2016, we introduced a social worker to that integrated service model. That allowed us to ensure that our clients have access to appropriate services (including housing), and feel supported and safe through the legal process.
See the Legal Services page to find out how to get help.
Through the Stepping Stones project, we examined the issues experienced by our clients, we conducted in-depth interviews with 30 women about their experiences and surveyed 40 community sector workers to identify what the major legal barriers women face in achieving economic equality are.
We used this data to inform our landmark research report – Stepping Stones: Legal barriers to economic equality after family violence.
Stepping Stones makes 27 recommendations for robust reform to industry practice and the law, in order to end financial hardship following family violence. We are now meeting with government and industry to make these recommendations a reality.
The Stepping Stones project was funded by the Legal Services Board.
The ongoing financial counselling and social work services are funded by the State of Victoria (Consumer Affairs Victoria).