Incredible women: Meet Hayley Foster

As a child of the women’s refuge movement, Hayley Foster knew from a young age she’d follow in her mother’s footsteps and pursue her own passion for justice, wellbeing, and social change advocacy.

Decades later, while managing the Northern Rivers Community Legal Centre, Hayley completed her Bachelor of Laws at Southern Cross University and went on to become CEO of Women’s Safety NSW.

This year Hayley and her team have secured changes to domestic violence laws and court procedures to ensure that from September 2021 in NSW, victim-survivors will be able to give evidence without direct cross-examination by their unrepresented abuser. They have also advocated for changes to DV laws to automatically protect animals as part of an apprehended violence order.

Federally, they have successfully advocated for enhanced funding and reforms to support frontline agencies in dealing with the ‘shadow pandemic’ of escalating violence against women and have been advising the Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia on an urgent national online family law list.

“Violence against women is at epidemic levels right throughout our communities, with one in four women experiencing some form of violence over their lifetime and intimate partner violence being the leading preventable driver of death, disability and illness in women aged between 15 to 44 years of age,” Hayley said.

“It perpetuates at such high levels because governments have not prioritised targeted measures to both address the violence and abuse and prevent it from occurring in the first place. This is, however, beginning to change as the community becomes more aware and focussed on the issue.”

Hayley was appointed CEO of Women’s Safety NSW in 2018 and has more than 15 years’ experience in the community and justice sectors. She says a key focus of her present work is to advocate for the criminalisation of coercive control which is at the core of domestic abuse, and for policing and court reforms to support effective implementation of these changes.

“As we’ve seen with the tragic Hannah Clarke case, coercive control is not just damaging, it’s extremely dangerous. We must update our laws to reflect the lived realities of victim-survivors of domestic abuse and send a clear signal that this harmful conduct will no longer be tolerated,” she said.

When Hayley graduated with her Bachelor of Laws (LLB) (Hons) from Southern Cross University in 2019 she was awarded the University Medal for being the highest academic performer in any Honours degree. Just days later she met with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office to advocate for improvements to the family law system.

“I find my job extremely fulfilling, working with innovative experts across many sectors, our amazing member organisations on the frontline who support over 50,000 women escaping violence each year, and with victim-survivors of violence themselves. The only way we get governments to prioritise these critical issues with real traction is by elevating the voices of a diverse range of people with lived experience and those advocating alongside them,” Hayley said.

“The knowledge and skills I have gained in my law degree have been instrumental in ensuring my effectiveness in the role as CEO of Women’s Safety NSW. I chose Southern Cross University because of the calibre of law degree and teaching staff. Knowing the law and how it operates in practice means I am able to ask the right questions of my members and better engage with key stakeholders. I would not be in the position I am today, driving these changes, without my law degree from Southern Cross University.”

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