Illawarra Women’s Health Centre general manager Sally Stevenson urges support for a women’s trauma recovery centre. Photos: Adam McLean
The Illawarra Mercury has opened a special exhibition in Wollongong, starting a campaign for an Australian-first Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre to be established in the region. The exhibition of images by the Mercury’s award-winning photographer Sylvia Liber of survivors of domestic and family violence will travel around the region over the next couple of months.
Domestic violence survivor Melissa Edwards knew nothing of “red flags and the cycle of domestic violence” until it was too late.
“When I first met the man who was to become my husband I never imagined the trajectory that would lead to my facing homelessness, fearing for my life, fearing for my children’s safety, financial abuse and persistent harassment,” she said.
The Wollongong mother-of-two is one of 10 women who feature in the Resistance, Resilience, Recovery exhibition which was launched at Project Contemporary Artspace on Wednesday.
It’s part of the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre’s campaign to establish an Illawarra Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre – a one-stop-shop providing holistic, and free, health, legal and psychosocial services for women escaping violence.
While there are primary prevention programs and crisis intervention services, this will be an Australian-first centre which will address the ongoing impact of trauma – and may become a blueprint for the rest of the nation.
For women like Melissa, it would mean having all the services required in the one place – and not having to tell their story multiple times.
“What became glaringly obvious to me is many of the interventions were short term, not integrative and required a lot of jumping through hoops to access,” she said. “This only added to my burden at a time of extreme stress.
“Domestic violence does not stop when you flee or the perpetrator is made to leave the family home. This (can be) the most dangerous time.”IN FOCUS:
The Illawarra Women’s Health Centre is using a $50,000 NSW Government grant to establish a design for the centre. However it is estimated it will cost $10 million to build and run for the first three years.
At Wednesday’s launch women’s health centre general manager Sally Stevenson paid thanks to the women who participated in the exhibition.
“Your stories are so powerful in and of themselves, but they also represent the 2.2 million women across Australia who have experienced domestic violence,” she said.
“Can we just speak of the trauma that sits in your bodies for years, for decades, manifesting in higher rates of disease and illness.
“The images speak of the trauma in your minds that sits there for years, sometimes a lifetime, that results in high levels of depression, anxiety and suicidality. And yet they also speak of your power, of women as the great protectors.”
Wednesday was also the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and marked day one of 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, which culminates in Human Rights Day on December 10.
In Australia, on average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner. Hospitalisation rates due to domestic and family violence have risen by 30 per cent over the last 14 years.
“We as a community do not protect you and the very blunt truth of that is what we hear every single week – that another women has been murdered by her intimate partner,” she said.
“If we do not protect women and children at the very least we have the ethical and moral responsibility to provide a place for therm to recover and to heal.
“That’s why we are calling on our community to establish the women’s trauma recovery centre.”
The Resistance. Resilience. Recovery. exhibition will be open for public viewing in Wollongong until Sunday.
The exhibition of images from the Illawarra Mercury’s award-winning photographer Sylvia Liber of domestic and family violence survivors is on display at Wollongong’s Project Contemporary Artspace in Keira St. After the week in Wollongong the exhibition will move south to Shellharbour.
The exhibition will be open to the public in the Imaginarium in the Shellharbour Village from December 7-12. It will then move to feature at Stockland Shellharbour in January.
The Resistance. Resilience. Recovery. exhibition is a collaboration between the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre, Domestic Violence NSW, the Waples Marketing Group and the Illawarra Mercury.
It is part of a call to action to establish an Australian-first Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre.
HOW TO HELP
You can support by using the #VoicesForChange hashtag or visit womenstraumacentre.wordpress.com for more direct action options.