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‘It’s a public health emergency’: Call for nine actions to stop domestic, family, sexual violence

3 September 2021

ABC Illawarra

More than 100 different health and education experts have signed an open letter supporting nine key actions they want adopted that will be presented at next week’s national women’s safety summit in Canberra. 

The summit is a precursor for gathering information and ideas about how to develop the next national plan to reduce violence against women and children.

The actions explained in the open letter were developed out of a recent forum that explored the future of domestic violence services. In part, that letter reads:

“Our vision is that by 2031, Australia has reduced the 2021 rates of domestic and family violence by 80 per cent, and 80 per cent of women who have experienced domestic and family violence-related trauma are properly supported to recover. It is a vision of hope.”

Illawarra Women’s Health Centre’s general manager, Sally Stevenson, said the number of signatories to the letter demonstrated recognition in the community about the need to do more.

Ms Stevenson said that the public needed to recognise that, not only did violence and abuse constitute a public health emergency, but also that this emergency required a whole-of-community response.

Clear, focused, practical actions

Referring to the open letter, Ms Stevenson said it had listed nine clear, focused and practical actions for government to adopt, including a much sharper focus on trauma.

“There is very little support for women who are trying to recover from the impacts of family and domestic violence,” Ms Stevenson said.

“Trauma behaviour is a very natural response to violence and abuse and should be treated as an injury.

“Therefore, we should we working within the public health system to support women to recover from that.

She said the signatories also wanted to see “at least 20 women’s trauma recovery centres set up across Australia in the next 10 years”.

Another key focus, she said, was on housing.

Embracing First Nations’ knowledge

Black and white image of a young, Indigenous woman smiling at camera. She has straight, long, dark hair
Aboriginal specialist worker Ash Johnstone says it is critical to include First Nations healing knowledge when addressing domestic and family violence.(Twitter: Ash Johnstone)

Illawarra Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service’s Aboriginal specialist worker, Ash Johnstone — a Dunghutti woman — is one of the signatories to the open letter.

“It is incredibly important that, whatever plan that is created as a result of this summit, [that it] includes knowledge from First Nation communities around Australia,” Ms Johnstone said.

“We need to have an investment in community approaches to dealing with domestic and family violence.”

Ms Johnstone said that First Nations people in Australia have more than 60,000 years’ knowledge around how to heal from trauma, how to support each other and that “we need to be utilising and investing that”.

Other signatories to the letter include:

  • Professor Patricia M. Davidson, Vice-Chancellor — University of Wollongong
  • Dr Angelo Virgona, Chair — NSW Branch, Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP)
  • Jennifer Tierney, Executive Director — Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Australia
  • Hayley Foster, CEO — RDVSA, Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia
  • Michelle O’Neil, President — ACTU
  • Tom Daunt, Chief Executive Officer — ALDI Stores

The letter reads:

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