Members of the University of Sydney Women’s Collective and the wider community protested and chained themselves to the fence of New South Wales Parliament today to call on the government to stop the proposed changes to the Victims Support Scheme.
Changes to the scheme would mean that victim-survivors of sexual assault, child abuse and domestic violence have to gather evidence themselves in order to access counselling or compensation payments. Speakers at the rally emphasised that these changes were bureaucratic, profit-driven measures that would exacerbate survivors’ trauma and deny many of them access to the services they need.
USyd Co-Women’s Officer Ellie Wilson highlighted that the changes to the scheme would be especially detrimental now due to COVID-19 which has led to increased levels of domestic violence, in addition to the amount of time victim-survivors have to spend in unsafe households due to isolation.
“It is absolutely shameful for the government to proceed with these changes after organisations working within the sector have pleaded for them to not go through [with them]. Any changes to the Victims Support Scheme must be led by victim-survivors and professionals working within the sector who understand just who will be tangibly affected by changes.”
Ellie Wilson also emphasised how these changes would disproportionately affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and poor people as they are “more likely to experience domestic and sexual violence…more likely to have diminished capacity to physically report due to lower levels of English literacy and access to digital devices required to report…[and] are at a higher risk of economic insecurity and homelessness when escaping unsafe households.”
Previously, victim-survivors have been assisted by state entities to gather records as evidence to support a claim which would then be filed by experienced support workers. Now, some victim-survivors may give up on applying for Victims Support altogether because searching for evidence themselves is costly and can lead to re-traumatisation.
Alysha, a survivor of sexual assault who has accessed the Victim’s Support Scheme, spoke about her experiences of trauma and memory loss which would make it impossible to get help without the assistance that had been provided under the previous framework. She stated that the changes are not about streamlining the service but are really about “saving a bit of money by raising the access barrier and locking people like me out.”
“Making it harder for victims to access support will kill people. I know this, you all know this, the Government knows this. Victim-survivors and the sector that supports them have been telling the Government this for months.”
USyd SRC Sexual Harassment Officer Kimmy Dibben echoed that “bureaucracy and profits are put before survivor support” both on campus where management has done little to combat sexual violence at the colleges, and off campus with these changes to the Victims Support Scheme.
“Cuts like these today, alongside changes which put the onus onto survivors to seek their own justice, take from the pockets of community support, and put it into over-funded police systems.”
USyd SRC Education Officer Jazzlyn Breen commented on how these changes are the manifestation of a system that is unjust to its core.
“This policy continues to ingrain the focus of dealing with violent acts on the carceral system—a focus on proof of crime rather than support for survivors, a bar that must be reached before the law will validate your experience.”
“I want to build a world based on restorative justice and the abolition of the violence of the carceral system. Policies like these do nothing to build a world that works for our communities.”