December 9 2021
Zoe Cartwright- Illawarra Mercury
Police have had a gutful. Support services have had a gutful. They’re stretched to breaking point, and underfunded.
They met with Illawarra Women’s Health Centre CEO Sally Stevenson and psychiatrist Dr Karen Williams this week to discuss the dire situation in our region.
“That’s a lag indicator – it shows we’ve completely dropped the ball.”
Greencross Vets director Dr Luke Michel agreed: “The numbers are pretty scary – I had no idea it was that bad.”
Many women have nowhere to turn. If they manage to escape, alive, they’re left to navigate a maze of different support agencies, all overworked, spread across the region.
It costs just under $20,000 to leave a violent relationship and start a new life.
If they make it out, they’d better have cash left over for counselling, because the government provides minimal support.
Instead, many women and children are left to deal with the physical and psychological scars. This unresolved trauma often continues the cycle of violence for the next generation.
Owner of Dignam Real Estate, Adam McMahon was shocked by the toll domestic violence takes on our region – and by the lack of support for survivors.
“The idea that a police officer or firefighter, who do great jobs, can access that support but the witnesses, the people who suffer directly don’t, that shocked me,” he said.
“Then the ongoing cost to the community, to the government is mind blowing.”
As an NRL-premiership winning physiotherapist, Dan Lawson is familiar with traumatic injuries. But the lack of follow-up care for women and children injured in their home floored him.
“The leading cause of health issues for women between 15 and 44 is a result of domestic violence,” he said. “That’s not right.”
Ms Stevenson and Dr Williams have a solution.
A purpose-built trauma centre – a one-stop shop for legal, physical, psychological and housing support for women and children fleeing unsafe homes.
It would be the first of its kind in Australia, and possibly the world.
In the same way cancer clinics ease the burden of illness and recovery, an Illawarra Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre would ease the long-term health impacts of violence.
Shellharbour surgeon Dr Mario Malkoun said the medical community hasn’t really grasped the consequences of domestic violence-related trauma.
“The ongoing effects on an individual’s health are broad and long lasting,” he said. “There’s no doubt someone’s mental health affects every facet of their life.”
Ms Stevenson and Dr Williams have meticulously planned what the centre would look like. They’ve developed a business plan and delivered it to the NSW Government in July. Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office came to meet with them earlier in the year. They’ve submitted a plan to the Federal Government.
Both submissions have stalled – the business proposal is still with the state government. Maybe they’re busy. Maybe they see it as a “women’s issue”.
After attending a round table with Ms Stevenson and Dr Williams the men were unanimous.
“This was needed yesterday,” said Mick Baines, owner of BaiMed Physiotherapy.
“This is a public health crisis.”
In fact, none of them could believe that a best-practice clinic like this didn’t exist anywhere in the Illawarra – or Australia.
Dragons community manager Adam Bezzina said he was “baffled” as to why a multi-disciplinary centre wasn’t available.
“We have campaigns to stop domestic violence, so why support for people who need it at the back end isn’t funded is baffling,” he said.
Barry Formosa said despite doing volunteer work he was “naive” about the lack of support for trauma.
“The need for it is obvious and urgent,” he said.
The centre would cost about $25 million to build and run over five years – “a drop in the ocean” in terms of government funding, as Mr Field put it.
To make it happen, Ms Stevenson and Dr Williams need the community to back them by raising awareness, lobbying local members, and help with funding.
For $500,000 a year they could obtain a premises and employ someone to push the project forward full-time.
“There is an opportunity for a coalition of men to provide support and leadership to achieve this vision,” publican and Wollongong council GM Greg Doyle said.
“Whatever we can possibly do, we should do.”
Professor of Law Luke McNamara agreed.
“They need allies, and I’m really happy to be one of those allies,” he said.
Disability Trust manager Michael Norris said it should be a no-brainer.
“When you hear the statistics, and take a look around at work and realise that relates to the women you know, that’s quite concerning,” he said.
“We have to work together as a society to be better.”
To show your support, donate via the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre website.
To read the letter pushing for a solution to gendered violence by 2031 go to: bit.ly/3CMJjyp