Posted in Media releases
Conflicting understandings of complex trauma create challenges for survivors of gender-based violence
Wednesday, 27th May 2020
In Australia, one quarter of women subject to gendered violence report at least three different forms of interpersonal victimisation in their lifetime, such as child sexual abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.
Being exposed to multiple, repeated forms of interpersonal victimisation may result in complex trauma, which involves a range of traumatic health problems and psychosocial challenges.
A new report from Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) examines Australian policy and service responses to this significant but overlooked group of victims and survivors of gender-based violence in Australia.
The research team, led by Associate Professor Michael Salter from UNSW Sydney, interviewed women with experiences of complex trauma and the professionals who work with them. The resulting report, Constructions of complex trauma and implications for women’s wellbeing and safety from violence, highlights the need for professional consensus and shared frameworks of practice to understand and address complex trauma.
“The women we interviewed told us that complex trauma is impacting every aspect of their lives: mental health, physical health, relationships, safety, financial security,” said Associate Professor Salter. “They flourished when services addressed all trauma impacts rather than just focusing on a single issue.”
The research found that while health professionals favour a psychological (problem of the mind) understanding of complex trauma, women with experiences of complex trauma emphasise somatic (bodily) and psychosocial (relational) aspects.
[My therapist] talks about mental illness, and I say to him all the time, “Don’t ever use that.” And he goes, “Why? It’s what it is.” And I said, “No, it’s not.” I said, “When you use the word illness, you’re saying that I’m sick. I’m not sick. I have a set of symptoms as a result of what was done to me. I’m not sick.” [Louise, study participant]
The report also highlighted the need for improved understandings of intergenerational trauma. While this is well understood within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy frameworks ad responses, the knowledge can be siloed. This can mean it is not readily applied to other groups of women affected by intergenerational trauma, such as women who have mothers with their own child protection history.
Navigating a fragmented service system where the majority of services are funded to address a particular issue or concern—each with their own (formal and informal) rules—while you are in crisis is fraught for women with experiences of complex trauma.
“This research demonstrates there is a need for responses to women who have experiences of complex trauma to be sensitive, coordinated and consistent between services and agencies”, said ANROWS CEO Dr Heather Nancarrow. “This reflects a growing body of evidence that collaboration between agencies is essential to effectively support women who have experienced domestic, family or sexual violence.”
For further information, contact Michele Robinson at ANROWS
on +61 0417 780 556 or email email@example.com.
Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety Limited (ANROWS) is a not-for-profit independent national research organisation.
ANROWS is an initiative of Australia’s National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010–2022. ANROWS was established by the Commonwealth and all state and territory governments of Australia to produce, disseminate and assist in applying evidence for policy and practice addressing violence against women and their children.
ANROWS is the only such research organisation in Australia.