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Specialist support for survivors of family and domestic violence

A national network of specialist, holistic, trauma recovery centres is needed as part of the Federal Government’s response to the unacceptably high incidence of family and domestic violence in Australia.

Pointing to the pilot centre for the Illawarra funded in this year’s federal budget, community-endorsed ACT Independent Senate candidate David Pocock has called for a similar centre to be established in Canberra as part of a broader nationwide rollout.

David is calling on whoever forms government next Saturday to commit $25 million in funding in the next federal budget over five years to bring together crisis support workers, social workers, specialist legal services and clinicians to design and establish a Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre in the ACT.

“A quarter of all women have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner. And horrifyingly, at least one woman is still murdered each week by a partner or former partner,” David said.

“We’ve seen crisis support providers across the board report far greater demand for their services since the start of the pandemic. An already dire problem has only gotten worse and their services are stretched to breaking point. 

“According to the National Women’s Safety Alliance, nine out of 10 domestic, family and sexual violence frontline services say that they have been under immense pressure since the pandemic began. This is a crisis.

“Locally I’ve heard from DVCS and the AFPA regarding their concerns about the rising rate of family and domestic violence, as well as from members of the community, some who’ve reported calls to helplines going unanswered.

“We need to keep the spotlight on this matter, and ensure our crisis support services are funded and resourced as well as supporting key initiatives aimed at education and prevention.

“At the same time, however, we can’t ignore the very real needs right now of survivors and we need a system geared to help women recover from the trauma associated with violence.”

Dr Karen Williams, who specialises in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and who, together with the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre is helping to helm the establishment of the Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre in Wollongong, said a greater focus on recovery will also help to reduce instances of abuse.

“Many women who have escaped domestic or family violence are living with significant trauma. Those women are statistically more likely to be abused again. Long-term psychological and psychiatric treatment and support is a critical component of reducing this vulnerability ,” said Dr Williams.

“We know a good recovery system can help lower suicides, get women back into work and also ensure any children have the opportunity to speak to a professional.

“These women often have complex legal, psychosocial and health needs. Quite simply, there are no spaces where women can consistently and safely access the range of comprehensive services required, particularly over the long term. Although some women have accessed private PTSD support,  many survivors are forced to attend group sessions with men, which can obviously be re-traumatising and a barrier to them seeking further support.

“I’ve been very proud to work on the Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre in Wollongong, which has been trauma-informed in its development and has engaged key stakeholders including survivors from the CALD community, LGBTQI+ ,women with disability and Aboriginal and Torres strait islander community at every level.”

David said he hoped the major parties would commit to a Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre modelled on the Wollongong Centre being co-designed by Dr Williams.

“This matter has to sit above politics. I will be working collaboratively with whichever party forms government to secure this investment, and I hope that both major parties will join me in making this commitment prior to the election,” added David.

“I also want to work in collaboration with the Federal Government and ACT Government to investigate how we can dedicate more hospital facilities for survivors seeking acute mental health support.”

In addition to the trauma centre, Dr Williams has worked with Ramsay Health to establish Australia’s first women’s hospital in Thirroul dedicated to the treatment of the psychological and psychiatric consequences of trauma such as PTSD.

“The experts have told me that intensive in-patient treatment is often needed to assist survivors through trauma, particularly when they may be acutely ill and suicidal,” David said.

“Currently, the lack of effective community care results in these patients ending up in emergency rooms, where they are unable to receive the trauma-informed psychiatric support they need.

“Relying on emergency department treatment is also a woefully inefficient use of our limited health resources.

“Canberra has some great trauma-informed psychiatrists, we just need to find a way to fund, establish and staff beds in an appropriate setting.”

David said these commitments were part of his broader commitment to advocate for measures and policies that end gender-based violence and for which he has taken the Fair Agenda Pledge for a Safer Future.

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