The challenge 

Domestic, family and sexual violence is the leading risk factor contributing to disease burden in Australia. It impacts all aspects of a woman’s and her children’s lives, including legal, financial, housing and health. Across their lifetime, one in six women will have experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner. One in four will have experienced emotional abuse from an intimate partner.

Making matters worse access to support services – whether police, legal, housing, health, financial – is generally siloed which makes it hard for women to have all their needs met. The process can be incredibly stressful and re-traumatising, which is further compounded for women with limited financial means or without transport, for women with a disability or chronic health issue, for women who live in regional or remote communities and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who face additional barriers to accessing support.

The solution 

The lifelong impacts of domestic, family and sexual violence call for responses that extend beyond crisis intervention to also address the longer-term impacts of trauma. Led by Sally Stevenson AM, General Manager of the Illawarra Women’s Health’s Centre, the centre embarked on a community-led campaign to establish the first Australian Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre to provide integrated and long-term support to women recovering from the traumatic impacts of violence and abuse.

Central to the campaign was drawing together evidence for what works, with richly detailed community stories and participatory co-design. Women’s health and trauma expert, Dr Patricia Cullen from the School of Population Health, led the co-design research with women with lived expertise as well as professional experts. This research shaped the new model of care for women experiencing trauma from domestic, family and sexual violence, which underpins the new centre.

We need to broaden our view of what is prevention. When we invest in the safety, health and healing of women and our communities, we will address not only the longer-term health impacts of trauma, but also work toward preventing ongoing violence and the intergenerational transmission of trauma.”

Dr Patricia Cullen

The impact 

The campaign was successful resulting in the new recovery centre being awarded $25 million dollars in the 2022 Federal budget. 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. The centre will provide wrap around services with medical and health care, as well as legal support, financial counselling and ongoing individual casework and advocacy. The Hon. Stephen Jones MP, Minister for Financial Services and Member for Whitlam, spoke about the need for the centre and the new funding in Parliament in March 2022. Throughout the campaign the centre has received widespread media attention.

“…the women at the Illawarra Women's Health Centre…have done an absolutely outstanding job in putting together a proposal, getting it researched and getting it market tested on how we meet the big gap in trauma recovery services for domestic violence. …I am so excited about the fact that the budget has allocated $25 million to the Women's Trauma Recovery Centre, with the proponent being the Illawarra Women's Health Centre—but they've formed an alliance with other women's services, the University of Wollongong, the University of New South Wales.”

The Hon. Stephen Jones MP

Key people and partners

Senior Research Fellow Patricia Cullen
Senior Research Fellow
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