August 16, 2019

Family Violence: Breaking Through the Barriers

This morning, we hosted our second Family Violence: At Risk Communities Breaking Through the Barriers half day forum.

The speakers included Nicole Lee (Victim Survivors Council), Kaye Rigby (Victorian Centre Against Sexual Assault), Janet Clover (Foundation House), Amanda Dashwood and Linda Hebel (NorthWestern Mental Health) and Pat Jewell (Australian Childhood Foundation).

From left to right: Kaye Rigby, Janet Clover, Amanda Dashwood and Linda Hebel.

Chief Executive, Siva Sivarajah, opening the forum spoke of how Northern Health has identified family violence as a major health issue.

The statistics he quoted were sobering – a quarter of women have experienced at least one incident of violence by an intimate partner, approximately one in five women has experienced sexual violence, and on average one woman per week is killed by her current or previous intimate partner.

Siva Sivarajah also pointed out family violence can, and often does, have a significant negative impact on the mental health of the survivors.

He made it clear that Northern Health was treating this issue as a priority, with a whole of hospital response. State wide Strengthening Hospital Response to Family Violence initiative, progression within clinical and organisational areas and education opportunities are some of the measures he listed.

Nicole the opening speaker, said it isn’t often victims or survivors get invited to speak from their lived experience at events like this.

Speaking of her experience as a victim of family violence, Nicole said “There are really vital things that nobody ever addressed. Nobody asked me direct questions such as, What was happening? Are you scared of him? Does he hit you? What happens when you argue and disagree with him?”

She says she got deadpan responses from people who possibly felt confronted themselves and didn’t know what to say. No one ever validated what they were hearing, says Nicole.

“They could have said ‘That sounds so terrible, I’m really sorry that you are experiencing that.’ But nobody said that and I started doubting my own reality.”

Kaye, another of our guest speakers, said she thought it incredibly important that health providers in any kind of role, start to feel comfortable initiating conversations as to whether or not people are feeling safe in their homes and safe in relationships.

Kaye Rigby from the Victorian Centre against Sexual Assault (CASA)

“One of the things I know as a sexual assault counsellor is that the great majority of sexual assault happens in homes,” says Kaye.

Kaye points out that as a result, there is so much taboo and so much shame that is becomes an uncomfortable conversation to have – and yet it is where the majority of her clients come from.

She described how these people are struggling to come forward and their mental and sometimes their physical health also deteriorates.

(The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse reports that on average, it took 23.9 years for survivors to tell their story).

“So the sooner we can start taking on some responsibility to create a safe and welcoming space that says ‘your issues are welcome here, we can handle it’, the sooner these people will be on the road to recovery,” says Kay.

Kay put it to the audience,  that they could be “the first person the victim feels safe enough to talk to.”

In which event, her advice is to respond respectfully, listen actively and believe, place blame with perpetrators (and confirm that the survivor has a right to a respectful and safe relationship). She reiterated the importance of  listening, believing and taking the disclosure seriously.

She left the audience with the heartening thought that the impacts of trauma can be mitigated with time, self –compassion and support.

Northern Health is the second health service in Victoria to be awarded White Ribbon Accreditation.