Picture above: Flyer for the Photographic Exhibition #voicesforchange
Patricia Cullen and Sally Stevenson
Domestic and family violence is a public health emergency and occurs in epidemic proportions in Australia. One woman a week is murdered. One in three have experienced physical violence since the age of 15. One in six have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner.
But what is so often missed in the reporting of domestic violence, the reporting of cold-blooded murders, of vicious assault, of long-term abuse – all acts of violence akin to crimes of war is what happens after. What happens over time, in the years and decades after the abuse has stopped, or the women and children have managed to escape their own private conflict zone.
Research shows – clearly and without doubt – that left untreated, the traumatic consequences of domestic and family violence can have lifelong physical and mental health consequences. They are significant, long lasting and evidence-based; impacting women, children, future generations, our community, our economy and ultimately, our country.
Research shows – clearly and without doubt – that left untreated, the consequences of domestic violence result in increased rates of heart disease, diabetes and chronic pain, increased rates of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and substance use, and are overrepresented in prison.
Research shows – clearly and without doubt – that it has a devastating impact on the development and wellbeing of children.
But we don’t talk about that. And we certainly don’t provide adequate and accessible publicly-funded services that support women who continue to suffer the trauma and pain that the violence and abuse has embedded in their bodies and their minds – that remains long after the violent hands, the abusive and demeaning words and all the controlling behaviours of their intimate partners has stopped. We’d rather not think about it, we’d rather not pay for it, in fact as a society we’d really rather not be bothered about it.
Women recovering from complex trauma and PTSD caused by family or intimate partner abuse require a range of support services depending on their circumstances: counselling, social support, parenting support, financial advice and support, and/or legal support. These services are most efficiently and effectively provided in one -safe- place, from a case managed team of professionals.
There is no such service or centre available anywhere in Australia.
There is nowhere in the public health system, or across the community service sector, where women can access integrated, comprehensive long-term support to recover from the health impact of complex trauma.
And that’s why we – the UNSW School of Public Health and the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre – with our partners are campaigning to establish a Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre.
This specialised Centre will offer a whole-of-organisation trauma sensitive approach that enables recovery from domestic and family violence trauma and helps to break the intergenerational cycle of violence. A range of holistic, and free, health, legal and psychosocial services will be provided. The Centre represents an investment that will provide significant financial and social returns to both the Commonwealth and NSW Governments, and the community. As a first of its kind in Australia, and designed to be easily replicated across the country, it will transform domestic, family and sexual violence response and recovery services.
As part of our campaign during the 16 Days of Activism, we are holding a photographic exhibition: Resistance, Resilience and Recovery.
‘Women resist violence, are fundamentally resilient – and have the right to recover from domestic and family abuse. We are calling on the community to support this right to recover.’
The exhibition is a community ‘call to action’ to support the establishment of Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre. The images here are from that exhibition, taken by award winning photographer Sylvia Liber.
Dr Patricia Cullen is a Research Fellow and Co-lead Child and Adolescent Health Theme Early Career Fellow, at the National Health and Medical Research Council Population Health, UNSW. Sally Stevenson AM is the General Manager of the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre.