Helping the hidden victims of crime

Adjournment speech

November 16, 2021

Tania MAXWELL MP (Northern Victoria):

My adjournment is to the Minister for Victim Support, and the action I seek is for the minister to review the claims for assistance for the children of Michelle Skewes, which have previously been rejected by the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT). Michelle Skewes endured years of horror at the hands of her abusive husband. He was recently jailed for a minimum of 10½ years on nine counts of rape, two counts of assault and one count of threatening to inflict serious injury. These offences occurred over a five-year period that was plagued with coercive control and degrading, pervasive abuse.

The judge noted Ms Skewes’s victim impact statement as being candid, honest and disarming in its dignity. It includes triggers of panic, moments of fear and terror, broken self-esteem, hypervigilance, distrust of others, anxiety, being plagued by nightmares and exhaustion, suffering the besmirching judgement we so often see in victim blaming and her attempts to shut off the abusing rhetoric that she endured in an attempt to reconstruct her life.

Ms Skewes has four children, three of them living. I will not give too much detail here in terms of what she has conveyed to my office about the impact of family violence on her children, but I think it is enough for us just to imagine their suffering and understand their need and their right to support. Ms Skewes has received some victim support through VOCAT, though it is quite minuscule in comparison to the five years, five months and 55 days that it took for this matter to run from report through to sentencing. She applied through VOCAT for support for her children to receive counselling; however, that was rejected. She did not have the emotional strength to appeal. These children are not considered victims in their own right, and this in itself is something that we will continue to push the government to correct.

Reforms in relation to victims of crime assistance cannot come soon enough for us. We have made some progress in increasing the recognition of children who live and witness family violence, most recently through my colleague Mr (Stuart) Grimley, who is working with Rosie Batty on calls for the standalone offence of family violence in the presence of a child. Children who witness family violence, who live in the context of family violence are victims. There is no doubt about that. This family has suffered enough, and these children deserve access to the psychological supports they need. I look forward to the minister’s urgent action on this abhorrent decision.