Constructions of complex trauma and implications for women's wellbeing and safety from violence

Project summary - RP.17.09

Approximately one quarter of women who have experienced gendered violence present complex trauma involving multiple types of physical and sexual victimisation and mental illness, substance abuse and ongoing victimisation. These women frequently come to the attention of health, welfare and law enforcement agencies. Understandings of complex trauma are, however, inconsistent across these services, which leads to fragmented and sometimes ineffective responses from services and professionals. The guiding question of the study is: “How can agencies and services improve collaboration to meet the health and safety needs of women with complex trauma?” The aims of the project are to:

  1. Analyse how complex trauma experienced by women is constructed in public policy at a national, state and territory level.
  2. Examine institutional approaches to women’s complex trauma in the mental health, alcohol and other drug and sexual assault/domestic violence sectors in New South Wales and Queensland.
  3. Document how women with complex trauma understand complex trauma, and their experiences and encounters with agencies while seeking help.
  4. Develop models of improved and collaborative responses to enhance the wellbeing and safety of women with complex trauma and their children.
  5. Policy and practice recommendations to enhance the wellbeing and safety of women with complex trauma, developed in partnership with an expert steering committee.


Project lead

Dr Michael Salter, Western Sydney University

Research expertise

  1. Dr Elizabeth Conroy, Western Sydney University
  2. Professor Jane Ussher, Western Sydney University
  3. Associate Professor Molly Dragiewicz, Queensland University of Technology

Practice expertise

  1. Dr Jackie Burke, Jackie Burke Psychology and Consulting, WSU fellow
  2. Professor Warwick Middleton, Director, Trauma & Dissociation Unit, Belmont Hospital 

Research partners

Confirmed advisory group members:

  1. Blue Knot Foundation
  2. Jarrah House
  3. Canberra Rape Crisis
  4. International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation

Priority populations

Women with disability, women who are, or have been, incarcerated, women who live in rural and remote areas (as explicit topic).

Project length

2+ years