Connecting Con nnecting peo people & communities BERWICK Thursday, 13 July, 2017
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Life through the lenss
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Property Lift out LAST CHANCE Anne and Beth are forgotten figures in the justice system. 170238 Picture: GARY SISSONS
Life sentence By Cam Lucadou-Wells Justice is a hollow word for two Berwick victims destroyed by a man’s brutal act. ‘Anne’, who is in her 70s, and her 40-something daughter ‘Beth’ have remained victims more than 10 years after Beth was viciously stabbed and beaten unconscious by the man in her home. It left her permanently maimed and with a significant brain injury. It robbed her of her social life, her relationship with her kids, meaningful work, her ability to drive and her independence. Anne and Beth cannot be legally identified because the convicted perpetrator awaits trial for a subsequent violent offence.
Their suffering continues long after the matter was decided in court and after the offender was released from jail, said Anne. “Beth has had everything taken away from her,” Anne said. “It would crush anyone’s spirit. It has crushed mine.” Traditionally victims of crime have been at the periphery of the justice system but now they’re prominent in the state’s law-and-order debate. The state government has announced a review into the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT), introduced tougher sentences for serious crimes and will create a Sentencing Guidelines Council.
Last year, a Victorian Law Reform Commission completed a separate review into improving access to justice for victims-ofcrime. Anne said drastic action was required. She and Beth made their pain known to the court through victim impact statements. They also applied for compensation from the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal. But Anne said Beth was underfunded for her ongoing therapy and support needs, and barely thought of in the sentencing equation. Before Beth was accepted for the NDIS, her $12,000 of annual disability support funding was woefully inadequate, according to Anne.
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It meant Anne had to scrap for years to top up funds for Beth’s therapies and transport for weekly shopping. For an idea of the shortfall, consider the NDIS pays Beth $42,000 a year. It was the first time she could get funding for two pairs of customised shoes. Beth got limited compensation from the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal - $35,000 for a modified bathroom and $7000 for being stabbed. Under the tribunal rules, a primary victim receives up to $60,000 for medical, counselling and safety expenses. It includes compo for two years’ loss of income up to $20,000.