IT was supposed to be a night of celebrations for a 57-year-old Wagga man after being a winning punter during last year's Melbourne Cup.
However, that night when he came home from the pub, he ended up going to Wagga Base Hospital after being left with a fractured jaw and broken ribs during a family violence incident.
"I remember being hit in the face and then wrestling on the ground for a bit - that's all I remember because I suffered a concussion," the man said.
Ever since that incident last November, he has experienced more hardships in everyday living, as well as legal issues surrounding his partner.
His experience aligns with recent research that found victims of domestic and family violence are 10 times more vulnerable to legal problems than the rest of the population.
Released last week, the paper by the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW found that in a 12-month period respondents who had experienced family violence had 20 legal problems on average - including family, civil and criminal law problems - compared with only two legal problems for the rest of the population.
In addition, four out of five respondents said their legal problems caused "severe impact" on their everyday lives, leading to illnesses, relationship breakdown, loss of income and accommodation issues.
For the 57-year-old Wagga man, who wished to remain anonymous, he said the biggest impact on him has been financial, health, accommodation and employment issues.
He said he could not stay at his partner's place after getting out of hospital because of fear, so he has been staying in a "makeshift room" in a backyard area of his rental property.
"I had nowhere else to go and I lost a few weeks' pay of work," he said.
The man said everyday issues like trying to pay utility bills on time have been exacerbated by the financial losses from the incident and that he "held back from dealing with the legal side of things for as long as I could".
He said it has also affected his relationship with his daughter, who wonders why he is still with his partner.
'Not surprising': family support services
Jenna Roberts, the director of Wagga Family Support, said the statistics are not surprising and that they "see it on a daily basis".
"It's important to recognise that the impact of domestic violence on families also have a wider impact on society - something that some may not realise," Ms Roberts said.
"We find that victims also experience financial hardship and that may sometimes lead to legal actions against them.
"They might have to break a lease or be unable to pay bills because they've now gone down to a single income.
"The Child Protection Act may then come into it as well with the children witnessing domestic violence."
Ms Roberts said that an added stress in legal proceedings was going through the Family Court in Canberra or when the Federal Circuit Court sits in Wagga, which is about once every two months.
"They have to miss work, which can really amplify any financial stress that they're going through, which can then affect their well-being and mental health," she said.
Working together to help victims
Data by Wagga Family Support's domestic violence court advocacy service shows that about half of the 1095 family violence police referrals between January and May this year have accepted the organisation's help.
Towards the end of last year, the organisation reported a surge in cases, with 32 incidents in the three days after Christmas alone.
Ms Roberts said that despite the complexities related to legal proceedings, regional organisations have worked together to make it less stressful for clients.
"For example, we work extremely closely with Sisters Housing to provide crisis accommodation," she said.
"Of course, we always welcome further funding to be able to help support women going through those legal issues, as well as continuing free legal advice for women."
The organisation, in partnership with NSW Police and Legal Aid, also provide a prosecutor's clinic, which exposes clients to the courts before actual proceedings.
"It exposes them in a really non-judgmental, de-stigmatised environment," Ms Roberts said.
"So with initiatives like that, we've found have had a much higher success rate [in manoeuvering the legal system]." Ms Roberts said this type of research is important to highlighting an issue that "is not talked about as much as we'd like.''
Also a public health concern
The research was led by the foundation's Dr Christine Coumarelos, who interviewed more than 20,000 Australians.
"The results reinforce the evidence base on wrap-around services better meeting the needs of domestic violence clients, which underpins initiatives such as domestic violence units and family advocacy and support services in the courts," Dr Coumarelos said.
NSW Law Society's president Elizabeth Espinosa said the paper's findings illustrate the broad and far-reaching range of legal problems that some of the most vulnerable members of society face.
"Combating domestic and family violence requires a complex and coordinated response across all jurisdictions and human service providers," Ms Espinosa said.
"This is a public health issue as well as a legal concern."
The research concludes that family violence has significant consequences for victims' physical and emotional health and in some cases results in homicide.
For the 57-year-old Wagga man, he said that while he has recovered from his physical injuries, the psychological recovery was a different matter.
"It did impact me mentally as well, especially when it's someone close and it it took me a while to get over it," he said.
Previous research estimated that the cost of family violence to the Australian economy was $22 to $26 billion in 2015-16.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.
In an emergency, call 000.
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- Always at capacity: city's domestic violence refuges at crisis point
- A domestic violence victim's journey through the courts
- Ray Martin visits Wagga to lead discussion on domestic violence
- Wagga support workers praise new NSW domestic violence sentencing reforms
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