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Stepping Stones

We commenced the Stepping Stones project to assist women experiencing family violence and financial hardship.

Women in Australia are still at significantly higher risk of poverty than men. Women who experience family violence are at even greater risk of financial hardship than women who have not experienced violence. The major cause of homelessness for women is family violence.

In addition, through our direct legal services for women, we observed that the legal system, financial institutions and essential service providers were failing to recognise the impact of family violence on financial stability. We observed there was no recognition of the ability of the perpetrator to use poverty (or the threat of poverty) to control a victim. Neither is there recognition of why it would be difficult or even impossible for the victim, in that context, to regain economic security, or in some cases even flee family violence. 

How we help

In 2014 we established a new holistic model of service, bringing together financial counselling with family law legal advice.

We developed new ways of advocating for our clients – pushing courts, government departments and creditors to take into account our client’s experience of family violence and financial hardship when making decisions that impact their economic well-being. 

As at September 2015 we had assisted over 200 women through the Stepping Stones project, and among other achievements, we have succeeded in having their collective debt reduced by over $300,000. One quarter of these women had debt that was accrued by an abusive partner against their wishes, without their knowledge, without understanding or under duress. 

In late 2016, we introduced a social worker to that integrated service model. That allowed us to ensure that our clients have access to appropriate services (including housing), and feel supported and safe through the legal process. 

See the Legal Services page to find out how to get help.

Changing the system

Through the Stepping Stones project, we examined the issues experienced by our clients, we conducted in-depth interviews with 30 women about their experiences and surveyed 40 community sector workers to identify what the major legal barriers women face in achieving economic equality are.

We used this data to inform our landmark research report – Stepping Stones: Legal barriers to economic equality after family violence

Stepping Stones makes 27 recommendations for robust reform to industry practice and the law, in order to end financial hardship following family violence. We are now meeting with government and industry to make these recommendations a reality.

The Stepping Stones project was funded by the Legal Services Board.

The ongoing financial counselling and social work services are funded by the State of Victoria (Consumer Affairs Victoria).


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What's News

New Fed Govt funding welcomed

12 May 2021


Women's Legal Services Australia welcomes news of an additional $129 million of funding announced in the Federal Budget for women's legal services around the country. Read our media release here


New CEO for Women's Legal

8 April 2021


We are excited to announce that Serina McDuff has been appointed as our new CEO. More details here


Gender inequality in legal & justice sector

29 March 2021


Share your story as part of our new survey, which looks at experiences of gender inequality and how they intersect with other forms of disadvantage, such as cultural background, sexuality, class, religion, race, or age. More info here