‘Moving beyond triage’: Push for women’s domestic violence trauma recovery centre grows

10 December 2021

ABC Illawarra – Kelly Fuller


Jane Matts once had a knife held to her throat by a violent and abusive former partner. Now she is one of the driving forces for the creation of Australia’s first women’s trauma recovery centre.

She has overcome homelessness, retrained as a lawyer and is now one of the victim advocates supporting the campaign for the new model of care that would provide wrap-around services.

“Often when women leave domestic and family violence, they find themselves begging for assistance.

“We are begging for legal assistance, we are begging for counselling and sometimes it is no, or there are little bits of service here and there – never anything that is put together.

“We’re dealing with schools, courts, housing, finances, job, lack of job, traumatised children, child protection, bills and forms, forms and more forms.”

Photo of front cover of report
The report outlines the new model of care for victims of domestic, family and sexual violence.(ABC Illawarra: Kelly Fuller)

At the launch of a report into the business case for the pilot centre, Ms Matts shared her own story of physical and emotional abuse and said the trauma had been transferred to her children.

“She [my daughter] has never had that moment where there has not been something to trigger trauma.

“And even by leaving I still could not control the trauma that came from the experience.

“My daughter needs ongoing support, which we are paying for; there is no funding for her to be able to get the support she needs.”

Ms Matts said there is an “obvious” gap in providing support for women and their families.

“This centre would be a brilliant innovation and absolutely needed,” she said

Launch of operational framework

Local women’s groups, including Illawarra Women’s Health Service, have been working to develop the model for the past two years.

Plans for the operational framework started with co-design and engagement with the Waminda South Coast Women’s Health and Welfare Aboriginal Corporation.

Women stares into the distance
Patricia Cullen says the centre aims to foster a sense of safety.(ABC Illawarra: Justin Huntsdale)

The report’s author, Patricia Cullen, said consultation continued with survivors, clinical health care workers and legal experts.

“At the core of the design are self-determination, compassion and safety,” Dr Cullen said.

“So that everyone, staff and clients, feel emotionally and physically safe.

“There will both crisis support and longer-term care and connection to community.

“When we invest in the safety, health and healing of women in our community, we will not only invest in the longer-term health impacts, but we will also work towards preventing violence and the generational transmission of trauma.”

Economic ‘no-brainer’

The backers are seeking $25 million to establish the “one-stop shop” centre.

Illawarra Women’s Health Centre chief executive Sally Stevenson said on average it costs a woman $20,000 to leave a violent relationship.

“It’s extremely difficult to have the resources to leave and that is why many, many women just can’t,” she said.

“In addition to the costs a woman bears when she tries to leave a relationship, it costs the NSW economy at $100,000 every ten years for a woman who is not recovered from trauma.

“From a financial perspective it is really a no brainer for the NSW Government to invest in this trauma centre.”

Calls for state and federal government to show support

Local Shellharbour MP Anna Watson thanked NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard for funding to write the operational model report but said he and the Commonwealth needed to do more.

“The state and federal government can and must do better,” Ms Watson said.

“I don’t want this report to simply be read and shelved for another one or two years, I want action now.

“I will not stop until we have a trauma recovery centre right here in Shellharbour, which can be copied in other areas.”

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