7 March 2021
ABC News by Kelly Fuller
Known for its work in war zones, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has for the first time moved to provide support for domestic violence services in Australia as demand for help triples during the pandemic.
“So, we looked through our own human resource pools to see if we could make a match and find someone who could provide short-term support to the centre to help them through this massive increase in demand.
“Normally we are training them to be deployed overseas on emergency operations, but during COVID-19 we have had a lot of restrictions around travel.”
MSF was able to provide a specialist trauma counsellor for the centre for six months.
It is the first time the international organisation has intervened to support a health organisation in Australia.
DV trauma ‘parallels’ war zone
Mr Eccleshall said the trauma counsellor has collected information about the impact of the coronavirus on domestic violence in the Illawarra region and the organisation has been able to compare the data to its global experiences.
“It is really interesting for MSF, which deals with people who are having traumatic experiences as a result of conflict and wars, to see the parallels,” he said.
“The trauma that people go through in a [war or] conflict is not dissimilar to the trauma that women go through when they suffer from domestic violence at home.”
Ms Stevenson said the centre was incredibly appreciative of the support from MSF.
“It made a real difference in how we have been able to provide services to women and [has] brought down our waitlist considerably,” she said.
The domestic violence support service has been able to better support and understand the families it helps, Ms Stevenson said.
“The MSF counsellor has brought some great expertise of trauma-informed responses to post-traumatic distress disorder experienced by domestic and family violence victim survivors,” she said.
Ms Stevenson said victims of domestic violence in Australia required high-level support to address their trauma and likened it to “terrorism”.
“We have often said that women experience war zones in their own homes — this is happening in the Illawarra,” she said.
Support for Trauma Recovery Centre
The IWHC has been leading a campaign to develop Australia’s first Trauma Recovery Centre for domestic violence.
In April, a bipartisan federal government inquiry recommended funding be provided for the proposed centre in the Illawarra
The inquiry into family, domestic and family violence found the proposal developed by the IWHC and the University of NSW was a pioneering model.
At the time, inquiry chair and Queensland LNP member Andrew Wallace said the committee was very impressed with the submission for “one-stop shop” model.
“The committee felt that this was a standout approach to try and deal with the scourge of family, domestic and sexual violence,” he said.
“If it is successful, the committee has recommended a five-year pilot program, funding for that five years and, if that is successful, we think it is something that should get rolled out across the country.”
Mr Eccleshall said MSF had also put its weight behind the model.
“The Trauma Recovery Centre is a fantastic initiative,” he said.
Mr Eccleshall said the centre would provide holistic support to victims of domestic violence and assist in their long-term recovery, including addressing the intergeneration impacts of their trauma.
$25m expected from federal budget
Ms Stevenson has welcomed the endorsement of the MSF and hopes the project will be granted $25 million in next week’s federal budget.
“We are really optimistic that the government is going to fund this,” she said.
“It is well overdue, it is very much needed, it has bipartisan support.
A spokesperson for the Minister for Families and Social Services Anne Ruston said in a statement a decision had not been finalised following the inquiry.
“The Government is considering all recommendations of the report and will respond in due course,” the spokesperson said.
“Last year, the Morrison Government provided states and territories $130 million which they were able to spend to bolster frontline domestic violence support services in their jurisdiction.”