VOCAL executive director Robyn Cotterell-Jones is taking a step back after decades as a victims' advocate

IT was months after she had felt more beaten up by a justice system than the vicious assault which had placed her in a wheelchair when Robyn Cotterell-Jones received a letter from a female politician telling her there was “nothing we can do” to fix victims’ rights.

The domestic violence survivor had been pushed to thoughts of suicide and at financial breaking point when she eyed the words under the State Govenment letterhead and felt her blood boil.

“That to me, that was it. If you are not going to do something, I will,’’ Ms Cotterell Jones recalled.

And so began a new career in passionate advocacy for crime victims – a position which last two decades and will formally finish on Friday as Ms Cotterell-Jones retires from the Newcastle branch of the Victims Of Crime Assistance League (VOCAL).

Although the 70-year-old was quick to point out she will continue to mentor for the charity of which she is a life member.

Ms Cotterell-Jones has been the public face for victims’ rights as head of VOCAL, using her unique and highly-successful mix of steely resolve and calming voice to lobby for a more just system.

It stemmed from her own nightmare, where she was left to fend for herself in a justice system after suffering horrific injuries in an attack by a former partner which broke her bones and her will.

It began as a volunteer and slowly grew into a charity which now has six full-time staff who have cared for the needs of countless crime victims.

“I started to find that if you treat the human being like a human being with their own needs you can actually help anyone,’’ Ms Cotterell-Jones said.

“Sure, there are a lot of different variations.

“So you serve the real person, not the bit that you are allowed to look at.’’

Ms Cotterell-Jones is a firm believer in telling victims the hard facts – what they are going to experience, how they are going to feel during that experience, and what they can expect from the justice system.

And despite decades arguing for change, she said it was notoriously slow and there was a long way to go.

And Ms Cotterell-Jones said she continuously returned to what the justice system, and those who work in it, should be: “trauma-informed and needs-based to the individual”.

“I suppose my own experience showed me that if you tell people what lies ahead, they handle it really quite well,’’ she said.

“We have a big turn away rate, people don’t turn up at the court, the victims. We don’t have them not go to court [when they arrive at VOCAL].

“We are happy to answer the repetitive questions when people don’t understand or they have forgotten because of trauma or whatever.

“That is my way. And I like my way.’’

Ms Cotterell-Jones is also firm in her belief that defendants should be made to be part of their defence, like the inquisitorial system in France.

And bureaucrats and politicians needed to be taken out of their bubble and start “learning from reality’’.

During her time, the former public servant and pub owner has been recognised with an OAM, a Steel Magnolia award which acknowledges women of courage and has been nominated for three Law and Justice medals.

But she said it was VOCAL which had achieved those honours.

“I want this organisation to run exactly like how you would want to be treated yourself if you were the person seeking help,’’ she said.

“And it is that simple.

“If you are kind and you are respectful and you listen and you attempt to assist somebody you can make a huge difference.

“And when people say ‘I don’t know what I would have done without you and the girls’, that is the big thing.

“You have somebody else who is alright, somebody else who is going to be able to keep on going.’’