To be a victim of crime is to have your faith in the community severed. It is shattering. Devastating. When a taxi driver chose to rape me, instead of drive me home safely, he destroyed not only my life and my sense of self but my faith in the world. Where before I had felt safe and confident, able to live and work and be a part of my community as I chose, I no longer felt secure even in my own home.
Crime is a fundamental violation of the social contract. Therefore, crime must be responded to by the community, by social institutions. Victims of crime must be heard and acknowledged by the community, they must receive social support to not only rebuild their lives but to rebuild their confidence in their community.
This is what the North Melbourne Legal Service provided me with. The services I received from the North Melbourne Legal Service have been vital in restoring my confidence in my self and the world and in restoring my connection to my community. The representation they gave me, provided me with a way back into the world, a way back into society.
I was referred to the North Melbourne Legal Service by CASA, the Centre Against Sexual Assault. My CASA counsellor organised a meeting with a solicitor and, with her by my side, I felt able to go through my story once more. Knowing that CASA had worked with the North Melbourne Legal Service before and that the solicitor would have been briefed and prepared by CASA as to how to talk about sexual assault with sensitivity and respect for the victim was what made it possible for me to go through with another legal process.
I was incredibly apprehensive about the legal system. Victims of rape know only too well that impunity not accountability has been the norm in the handling of rape. We know only too well what it is like to be treated dismissively and disrespectfully. We know only too well that this happens in the legal system, too.
My experience with North Melbourne Legal Service not only dispelled all my concerns, it transformed them. I was listened to respectfully and thoughtfully. My experiences were heard and acknowledged. The invasive and destructive trauma that had been inflicted upon me was recognised.
My solicitor worked with me skilfully and diligently to find the best way to represent my experiences in a court of law. She generously made time for me and considered how the North Melbourne Legal Service could best support and represent me. She gave me the opportunity to reflect upon and decide how I wanted to proceed. She always communicated clearly and simply what I needed to do and what I could reasonably expect from the law. She made the whole process transparent and accessible.
What I got from North Melbourne Legal Service was so much more than skilful legal representation. By hearing me and supporting me to take my victimisation before a court of law, they gave me a public voice to express the devastating consequences of crime. The day we went to court and received the acknowledgment and recognition of a judge was transformative for me. To have the criminal held accountable, to have the system recognise that a crime had been committed and that what had happened to me was completely unacceptable was incredibly significant in helping me to believe once more that I could trust my community.
While many of my losses as a result of sexual assault can never be compensated, the opportunity that legal representation gave me to be heard and to have my experience acknowledged as an unacceptable crime, has allowed me to move on with my life. To have the very real impacts of sexual assault represented and heard in a court of law and acknowledged by a judge, has permitted me to heal some of the wounds created by sexual assault. The advocacy and support that North Melbourne Legal Service gave me through their representation restored my belief in the community and restored my sense of confidence in my place in the world.
I am so grateful to the North Melbourne Legal Service for the invaluable work they did with me. The representation, advocacy and support I received throughout the process have been incredibly powerful in returning me to a life I can call my own and a life that involves a productive and useful contribution to the community. Since going to court, I have returned to study, I have recommenced professional work, I have moved out of the family home and returned to living independently – all of these things seemed possible once more, I felt strong enough to undertake them, after receiving my day in court.
I cannot speak highly enough of the value and significance of the North Melbourne Legal Service. All victims of crime deserve their day in court, deserve representation in the legal system and the right to a voice. What the North Melbourne Legal Service gave me was a way back into the world, a way to have faith once more in the community, and a way to speak up for myself. Each were instrumental in helping me to recover from the trauma of crime.
Victoria is notable for the strong culture of rights that it has built and enshrined in law – the North Melbourne Legal Service makes these rights accessible to all.