DAY THIRTEEN: A Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre: A Call to Action

While domestic and family violence is prevalent across Australia with a murder rate of one woman per week, there remains an absence of centres that offer support to women survivors over the long term. This post focuses on the establishment of a Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre, by the UNSW School of Public Health and the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre and their partners.

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. 

Vicki Roach – survivor and advocate. Photograph by Sylvia Liber. Reproduced by permission

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.  

For more information, visit the Womens Trauma Recovery Centre’s website and Facebook

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.

DAY SEVEN: We can’t breathe!

Performance Artist Maria Adela Diaz discusses her performance piece tackling psychological abuse of women during COVID 19.

“Crazy”: Image from Maria Adela Diaz performance We Can’t Breathe. Photo by Frank Sunseri. Reproduced by permission

Maria Adela Diaz

Have you ever felt like you can’t breathe? Not because you ran a 5K marathon, but because you are tired of hearing what’s happening around the world? Or perhaps because your intimate partner’s insulting words are cutting your breath away and maintaining you in isolation from others?

This abusive and controlling behavior is used to gain power and control over you! Domestic violence affects women and men but happens mostly to women, regardless of their racial, ethnic, age or economic group. It happens all around the world, and if you are aware that you are suffering from it, have the course to denounce it! Tell your best friend, your parents or take it to court. We can’t keep accepting degradation from anyone. It is time for change.

“Illegal”: Image from Maria Adela Diaz performance We Can’t Breathe. Photo by Frank Sunseri. Reproduced by permission

Physical abuse is the most easily recognized form of abuse, but domestic violence is not only physical. Victims that suffer at the hands of their intimate partner can suffer violence by way of emotional, psychological and verbal abuse. In fact, these three types of abuse are often more damaging and difficult to heal from than physical abuse. These types of abuse can also include sexual abuse, financial, technological, legal abuse, threats of physical harm, destruction of property and abuse of loved animals at home.

During periods of health crisis such as COVID-19, the risks of domestic violence and exploitation against women and girls increases due to tension at home, and the uncertainty generated in families by the decrease of income, as well as coexistence for longer periods of time. Furthermore, women and girls who are survivors of violence face additional obstacles in fleeing risky situations or in accessing protection mechanisms and essential services that can save their lives, due to factors such as restrictions on movement or quarantine requirements. 

  • An incident of abuse happens more frequently than every 3 seconds around the world.
  • In the US, 1 of 3 women and 1 of 4 men have experienced some form of abuse by 
      an intimate partner.
  • Women with disabilities, undocumented migrants, and victims of trafficking are most at risk of domestic violence, which can start with verbal abuse and develop as far as murder.

A UN expert noted that, for many women, the emergency measures necessary to fight COVID-19 have increased their burden with respect to domestic work and the care of children, elderly relatives and sick relatives. This economic crisis has created additional barriers as well as an increased risk of sexual exploitation within the household. 


This is a video performance art piece that talks about the very starting point of domestic violence. It sheds light on the fact that domestic violence can start with a single word. Vulnerable women are often the receptors of this abuse, particularly as women have less resources to defend themselves due to an imbalanced economic system that allows men to be paid more and have more access to education. 

My motivation to create this performative video was that during COVID-19 women I know were getting attacked by their intimate partners during quarantine. I also have lived it myself and I wanted to shared a very common abuse that sometimes remains invisible. Women don’t denounce this type of psychological abuse and it becomes suffocating internally, damaging women’s self esteem and much more. My purpose is to inspire women who are trapped in this type situation and let them know there is a way to denounce this behavior and that is not okay to take this from anybody.

“Bitch” Image from Maria Adela Diaz performance We Can’t Breathe. Photo by Frank Sunseri. Reproduced by permission

This performance piece is an action of liberation for the artist and serves to liberate other women that have been emotionally or verbal abused. 

The artist sews insults that her and her friends have received during Covid-19, with the degrading words sewn onto rice paper with red thread, as an act of resilience and courage for all the women who can’t breathe!


Guatemalan native and international performance artist Maria Adela Diaz, has used her body and various media to explore the complex essence and sublimity of a woman’s nature. This video performance took place in the artist’s home in Los Angeles California where the artist works and lives. Maria’s work raises objections to patriarchal values, political deception, migration and discriminatory ideologies. Employing video and installation to seduce and provoke the observer within unexpected, every day contexts. Maria has been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions in venues around the world. Maria currently resides in Los Angeles, where she works as an art director.

Her website can be found at

Photos and video were taken by Frank Sunseri. Reproduced by permission.

DAY SIX: Young Survivors of Gender Based Violence: Innovation and Impact

We stay on the theme of child survivors of domestic violence today. Read about the innovative and creative projects young survivors in Scotland have organised to reach out to others experiencing domestic violence while mobilising support for domestic violence survivors.

Picture above: Artwork above from the Everyday Heroes arts collaboration with students. Reproduced by permission

Ruth Friskney and Claire Houghton

Young survivors of gender-based violence are at the forefront of innovative responses to Gender Based Violence in Scotland. National young people’s participation projects like Voice Against Violence, Power Up Power Down, and Everyday Heroes have transformed Scotland’s understanding of gender based violence through young people’s perspectives. The projects’ creative, relationship-building approaches are rooted in the skills of support workers in empowering children to speak about abuse. Young survivors themselves innovate in speaking directly to people in power and reaching out to other children and young people experiencing GBV, including during Covid-19.

Voice Against Violence led this campaign, co-produced with Government, about young people’s experience of living with domestic abuse alongside their mothers.

Young survivors have worked to see children and young people recognised as victim-survivors of all forms of gender-based violence. A Voice Against Violence film was used by young survivors to critique the lack of recognition of children in legislation about domestic abuse.  A key step forward was achieved in the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 to finally recognise that the perpetrators’ ongoing psychological, physical, sexual and financial abuse adversely affects children as well as women.

Super Listener, designed by the children involved in Power Up, Power down, to set out what children want from the adults who work with them. Now available in nine languages through Improving Justice in Child Contact. Slide the arrows left and right for English (left) and German (right).

Key messages  are consistent across projects: young people don’t know how to seek support, support is inadequate, training is needed and specialist workers are invaluable. Young survivors have taken action on this, using fabulous innovative and creative methods: websites by young sexual violence survivors for support and information, training videos and resources like Super Listener for professionals and a national online platform currently being co-developed (That’s Not OK) to take forward survivor’s recommendations to Government.

Still from You are not alone!, an animation designed by young people affected by domestic abuse for young people affected by domestic abuse. Watch different language versions from the Improving Justice in Child Contact media channel.

When COVID-19 hit, and evidence began to build about the ways in which the pandemic helped perpetrators of domestic abuse to harm women and children, Yello! a group of young advisers to Improving Justice in Child Contact (IJCC),  felt that

we had to do at least something small to help out – or at least let someone out there know that they’re not alone and what they’re going through will pass. [1]

What it was like to make the animations, from Yello’s blog: We knew we had to help

Yello! wanted to make sure that children and young people knew that there was help and how they could get to it. They worked on two animations (“You are not alone” and “If home is not safe”) and supported partners across the five countries of IJCC to tailor animations for their own languages and contexts.

Locally, young experts from AWARE, Angus Women’s Aid’s Young Expert group, created their own film about what young people affected by domestic abuse might be feeling and the questions they would be asking during COVID. The film signposts sources of help, to make sure that young people affected by domestic abuse – in their own relationships or alongside their mother – know, even in COVID, that “You are not alone”.

Artwork from the Everyday Heroes arts collaboration with students

A key message from all these projects is that the justice response to young survivors needs improvement – in particular for children and young people’s views to be given due weight and for the perpetrator, not the woman or child survivor, to be held accountable. Everyday Heroes’ call for action expressed through displays in Parliament and creative dialogue with key decision-makers resulted in a pledge for collaborative action by Ministers.

Child contact remains a key area of concern – one being considered by the Improving Justice in Child Contact project including Yello!, its young advisers. Evidence from young survivors indicates that domestic abuse continues even if a mother and child are able to separate from a perpetrator. Child[1]  contact can be defined as communication, such as phone calls or spending time, with a parent that the child does not usually live with, and its type and frequency can often be set by the Courts. Child contact is often used by perpetrators to continue to harm mothers and children. COVID-19 has provided perpetrators with additional opportunities to enhance their abuse.[2]

“Don’t dismiss us – we experienced it, and we know what we’re talking about.”

From Yello!’s evidence to the Justice Committee

In Scotland, Yello! have been instrumental in the development of the Children (Scotland) Act 2020, meeting with the Minister, submitting written evidence, and taking part in person in a session with the Justice Committee. One young woman worked with Scottish Women’s Aid to write a case study of her experience of the child contact system – with the aim of giving decision-makers a glimpse of what it is like for a young person not to be listened to, and to be told to spend time with someone she feels unsafe with.

Yello!, the young advisers to Improving Justice in Child Contact, dressed up as ghosts to meet the Scottish Minister for Community Safety in Parliament. Their key message was that young people affected by domestic abuse feel invisible in court processes that decide child contact.

Internationally, IJCC have inspired partner organisations and the young people they work with to reach out creatively to share their experiences and to meet directly with people in power. For example, young people working with the IJCC partners in Portugal have been invited to meet directly with judiciary and other key stakeholders. Maria, a young person working with the IJCC partner in Romania, has written a blog, including poetry, about her experiences:

It was only one wish I have had,

I asked not to see him again

And it is such a sombre thing

You demand that I must visit him.

I read and a tear slipped my face

Because in danger you have put me

You told me I need to stay with him

As if it was a little thing.

Note to my judge
‘Maria’, 13 years old, working with the Romanian partner in the IJCC project, writing about the experience of reading the child contact court order

Young survivors of abuse have transformed policy and practice responses in Scotland through participation – and are inspiring young people internationally with what progress is possible. Such innovation needs resources and the support of competent adults to fully harness the wonderful power, talent, expertise and passion of young survivors.

“I think projects like ours are important because not that many children and young people have a say in their lives, because people think we are too young to know better.”

Yello!, on the experience of taking part in participation work

[1] There is a large academic literature on the impact of domestic abuse on children and the particular issues around child contact such as: Katz, E. (2016). Beyond the Physical Incident Model: How Children Living with Domestic Violence are Harmed by and Resist Regimes of Coercive Control. Child Abuse Review 25(1), 46–59. Callaghan, J., Alexander J., Sixsmith, J and Fellin, L. (2018). Beyond “Witnessing”: Children’s Experiences of Coercive Control in Domestic Violence and Abuse. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 33(10), 1551–1581 Holt, S. (2017). Domestic Violence and the Paradox of Post-Separation Mothering. British Journal of Social Work 47 (7), 2049–2067; Mackay, K. (2018). The approach in Scotland to child contact disputes involving allegations of domestic abuse. Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 40(4), 477-495. Morrison, F, Tisdall, E.K.M., and Callaghan, J., (2020), Manipulation and Domestic Abuse in Contested Contact – Threats to Children’s Participation Rights. Family Court Review, 58 (2), 403-416.

[2] You can read Improving Justice in Child Contact’s response on COVID-19 to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women

This blog was written by Dr Ruth Friskney and Dr Claire Houghton from the University of Edinburgh. Ruth is a Research Fellow on the Improving Justice in Child Contact project (funded through the European Union’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme 2014-2020), working to improve participation in child contact processes for children affected by domestic abuse. Claire is a Lecturer in Social Policy and Qualitative Research working to improve young people’s impact on gender equality and gender-based violence policy, through Voice Against Violence (ESRC/Scottish Government funded), Everyday Heroes (Scottish Government) and the new ESRC UK project CAFADA. In writing this blog Claire and Ruth have drawn on the inspirational and creative work of the young people leading and taking part in the projects described in this blog, as well as the organisational partners: with thanks to them all.

Their twitter handle is @CYSRG1

DAY FIVE: I will not let your shadow hang over me

Singer/composer Jack Colwell’s new work The Sound of Music addresses the childhood trauma of domestic abuse: It is: “a dialogue between three people: myself at 28, myself as a child and the idea of my father.”

Photo: Kylie Coutts reproduced by permission

Jack Colwell

When I was a child, I lived in the hallway between my bedroom and the kitchen at the back of our house in the sleepy Sydney suburb of Collaroy Plateau. The hallway was painted lime green, and a print of Monet’s “Water Lilies” hung framed on the wall next to a towering bookshelf (at least, it seemed to be towering when I was six years old). 

I remember the hallway in our old home so vividly because it is where I often hid during outbursts of domestic violence. There was no set time or circumstance that brought these moments on. It could happen at any time, really.

My dad taught at our local primary school and, on occasion, these acts of violence would happen in the morning before we left the house; my mother screaming for me to run to the neighbours and call the police, as my Dad smashed plates around her before picking me up and carting me off to class. At home he could be a monster, but at school he was the most popular teacher on the playground: Mr. C. Before we got in the car to leave for school I would sneak into my room and grab some handkerchiefs to put down my school shorts to soak up the piss from soiling myself in fear.

The violence was terrifying. Growing up in that environment left me with incredibly low self-esteem, and I’ve struggled as an adult to form healthy bonds with intimate partners; what my psychologist described as “insecure attachment”. These are side effects I’ve never fully grown out of. 

It actually wasn’t until a few years ago that I realised the toll these actions had taken on me – which feels almost absurd to write, but I think when you grow up in a hostile environment you become accustomed to it; it somehow becomes your normal. Since coming to terms with this realisation, I have started my own journey of working through this pain and figuring out how best to express it. That’s when the song came.

“The Sound of Music” felt like an important story to tell, and one that I couldn’t contain. During the writing process for my debut album, SWANDREAM, I looked inside myself at my own childhood trauma, and used it to construct narrative songs. 

I believed – and still do – that the stories on the album, and the sharing of my experience, could help others. I remember towards the tail end of the writing period I had been going over these memories each night in my sleep, like an old worn VHS in my mind. I was restless, and low. It felt like a heavy burden to carry inside of my chest – an albatross around my neck.

When I sat down at the piano, the song appeared, as it rarely does, almost fully formed. I had been thinking of “Dido’s Lament”, from Purcell’s famous opera. At the beginning of “Dido’s Lament” there is a small musical moment – a recitative – where Dido announces to the chorus that she will lay herself in the earth, almost as though she is breaking the fourth wall. I used a similar structure in “The Sound of Music”. 

After months of turning the idea over in my mind, it seemed that the song was actually a dialogue between three people: myself at 28, myself as a child and the idea of my father.

The song opens:

“I will not let your shadow hang over me,

For I have grown into a cherry blossom tree…”

It’s a sentiment that is peaceful in tone, but strong in nature –and what could be more powerful and beautiful than nature itself, overcoming all obstacles? Once the recitative is spoken, the song descends into the night, tying together key events of my childhood. It’s mostly set around birthdays, important holidays and the like – all occasions when instances of domestic violence are statistically more likely to take place. These are the events that destroyed the innocence of my childhood and drained the sense of fantasy and wonder from my youth – including one Christmas Eve when my father introduced himself as “the real Santa” while drunk, moments after beating my mother. I consider my work both personal and political.

While this story is painful to share, its message and the conversation I hope it creates overshadows my shame and humiliation. We talk a lot about how victims should not be defined by what befalls them, but I think that what you fall victim to can shape you in a way that does define your identity and existence. It’s what you do with that experience that is important.

Directed by Matt Sav using archive footage of Jack Colwell 

Jack Colwell is an Australian singer/composer whose debut album, SWANDREAM, was recorded in Sydney and produced by renowned singer Sarah Blasko. SWANDREAM paints a picture of a young queer man contending with identity, heartbreak and historical abuse. The songs are informed by Colwell’s classical training at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, his love of confessional singer-songwriters, and his infatuation with fairytales and myths. In 2015, his debut EP spawned the sleeper hit “Don’t Cry Those Tears”, which attracted significant radio play and led to a remix by US noise-rockers HEALTH. Extensive domestic touring and LGBT advocacy followed, and Jack soon became one of Australia’s most prominent independent artists. @jackcolwell_

DAY THREE: Returning Home And Violence Within The Home: COVID-19 and multiple gendered violations

This post, while engaging with some of the reasons around the rise of domestic violence, will primarily look into the multiple meanings and metaphors associated with home that the pandemic has made us confront.

Rukmini Sen

The COVID 19 public health crisis and the subsequent lockdown has generated discussions about the ‘shadow pandemic’ of the rise of gender based domestic violence. This post, while engaging with some of the reasons around the rise of domestic violence, will primarily look into the multiple meanings and metaphors associated with home that the pandemic has made us confront. As a part of the 16-day activism against GBV, and the UN Women theme ‘Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect’ with a special focus on pandemic induced heightened domestic violence, I  will briefly assess what are the multiple ways in which home has been confronted the pandemic. I see contestations around five meanings of home emerging in this crisis all of which have gender based implications and consequences.

All of us by now have been made conscious about the need to stay at home to reduce the spread of the virus. In India, which this post focuses on, the first advisory came on March 16, directing closure of schools, regulations on mass gathering, ensuring physical distancing of minimum 1 metre between tables in restaurants, postponement of examinations, avoidance of non-essential travel. It was only a matter of time before we understood that the implications of stay at home in conjunction with work from home was going to be serious for gender based household work over and above the impact of professional work space moving inside the home.

The public discourse of Stay at home meant the homeless and the urban pavement dweller were excluded from the discussion

It has also had hierarchical implications depending upon the space inside an individual home—how many rooms, how many people in each room, how many members having their own electronic gadget to connect to the world outside the home? Space, privacy, personal phones all have gendered implications and there have been specific studies about women’s inadequate access to smartphones in India, before the pandemic.

Work from home for most of urban upper middle class women in India has meant a disproportionate increase in domestic labour. Finding  work life balance becomes difficult if not impossible because the increase in care work, in addition to the professional work all from the confines of the home. Middle class professional households were without assistance from paid domestic helps for at least the first two months of the lockdown and this impacted on women’s lives in manifold ways.

Traveling to the workplace is an important liberating journey for most women, including college going women students.

These sites, however gendered in themselves, still create the possibilities of travel, self time, friendships, conversations—away from caste-kinship determined existence within the home. While this situation is experienced by professional service sector women, the pandemic has increased the gender gap in employment. According to Ashwini Deshpande women employed in the pre-lockdown phase were 23.5 percentage points less likely than men to be employed post-lockdown.

A third type of discussion around the home has happened in regard to violence within the home or domestic violence. It is necessary to remember that the stay at home, work from home advisories and experiences were clearly creating a condition for increase in domestic violence. According to National Commission for Women, domestic violence could have increased by 2.5 times during the lockdown. Some of the reasons for physical as well as verbal abuse as reported are ‘not managing resources properly’, ‘not serving food on time’, and also ‘not being able to procure rations/relief material’.

Specifically, in Tamil Nadu the reasons for increase in violence within the home were arguments arising out of sharing household work, suspicion over time spent on social media, unemployment resulting in a cash crunch at home etc. One of the main strategies for tackling COVID 19 -related rises in domestic violence has been to increase helpline services by various women’s rights, child rights and sexuality rights organisations in different Indian cities and a WhatsApp helpline number set up by the National Commission for Women. However, finding the opportunity to report cases with most members of the household also indoors has become even more difficult.

Indian migrant workers during the COVID 19 pandemic. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Images of migrant workers—a bulk of whom were women with children walking back home, travelling unimaginable distances by foot due to the sudden announcement of nation wide lockdown, are now global. What this clearly demonstrated is that big cities do not become homes for migrant labourers, they come there to work, mostly as construction workers and short term migrant workers face a complete sense of precarity if there is no daily work in the city. It is impossible to survive in the metropolis, to pay rent, buy food without wages. Seasonal migration for construction, migration in the city for sex work or bar dancer, migration due to agricultural purposes are to be understood as conditions where the worker comes back home when the work ends or goes to another place in search of work. Thousands of migrant workers walking back several days to reach home—where they could at least find food and the security of other members of the community —signify which is really shelter.

Finally, the anxiety and hope of home coming for many students who stay in halls of residence away from their parents, or in rented apartments in cities where they work, within or outside the country, away from their original natal or marital homes. Travelling back home for a certain class of people, takes a flight or an AC train to ‘come’ home/country of original residence has been disrupted and shaken up in ways that has never happened in the recent past. People of all genders are affected by this, but for women students or professional single women, the isolation during these months and its deep psychological impact are sure to have far reaching consequences.

The pandemic crisis opened up a sociological insight to the gendered site of the home as contested between the metaphors of caged, sheltered, violent and secure.

Rukmini Sen is Professor of Sociology, School of Liberal Studies, Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi. You can contact her at