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Dr Karen Williams helps a lot of police officers, first responders and former soldiers deal with their Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But not being able to offer free PTSD help to the hundreds of thousands of women who have survived domestic violence breaks her heart. The psychiatrist at South Coast Private Hospital in Wollongong recounted a case involving a woman who was axed to death to highlight her point. Dr Williams is providing PTSD treatment to one of the police officers who was among the first to see the crime scene. But the doctor can’t offer the same treatment to the sister of the victim or the child who witnessed and survived the attack. “I’m not downplaying what the police officer is going through because I absolutely think they need help and should be given help because seeing that sort of stuff is something we should never have to look at as human beings,” Dr Williams said. “This shocking incident caused a stranger [the police officer] undoubted trauma; imagine the trauma the family is going through. But, they can’t access the same free treatment. “The bigger problem is there just isn’t anywhere in Australia where you can access that type of therapy for free, it just doesn’t exist. “It’s a known fact that there are millions of women and children living in Australia who are suffering the effects of trauma from family violence. Read more: Australia’s first domestic violence trauma recovery centre a step closer for the Illawarra “The traumas that people are experiencing at home, the place they should feel safe, are horrific. You would imagine that if they needed help later on, that we as a society would say ‘yeah we’ve got this and this for you’, but we have nothing. “How is it possible that in 2020 that we don’t have anything for these women and children – children that talk about seeing their mother being bashed unconscious? “I’ve got patients who have seen their mothers being killed by their dad, and they remember it, and I don’t have treatments available for them. It breaks my heart.” Dr Williams is special advisor on mental health to the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre. She is also on the professional advisory committee looking to build an Australian-first Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre here in the Illawarra. Women’s Health Centre general manager Sally Stevenson welcomed the broad community support for the campaign to build the much-needed centre. Ms Stevenson said thanks to a $50,000 state government grant, the trauma centre was in the design stage. Yet it would require $10 million to build and run for the first three years. It would be a free “one-stop wraparound service” which would address the complex health, legal and related needs of women recovering from domestic violence. “The support we have got from the community and the professional sector in domestic and family violence is unanimous. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t want [a trauma recovery centre],” she said. Read more: Grieving family’s help to establish Illawarra Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre “The government doesn’t put anywhere near enough resources into domestic and family violence as it should. It is chronically underfunded, given the emergency that it is. We are hoping that the centre gets the go-ahead because women deserve this. There is just no continuity of care, no service that provides the wraparound support that women require. “Domestic violence is complex, there is no doubt about it, but it is also profoundly damaging. And, in order to be able to recover we need to move beyond just crisis support, which of course is really important. It can take years to extricate yourself from a relationship. “We know for example on average abuse continues for another two years after a woman has separated from the partner. It is not just if she can leave, and many can’t, but if they can leave the relationship, it is not all over at that stage, the abuse goes on, and the trauma, if it is untreated, can last a life time. “It is not just the mental health concern, a very high proportion of women and children have an acquired brain injury as a consequence. There are multiple legal issues that come into play and continue to cause harm to women. “A wraparound service will look at all of the aspects of the damage that is caused and provide co-ordinated, consistent and continual care until a woman is better and can lead a functional and free life.” Domestic violence survivor Christine Donayre agrees a Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre is much needed. “One of the reasons I couldn’t leave my ex-husband with my child is that I just had no idea where to go,” Ms Donayre said. “I had no idea where to start. It was just such a confronting idea to have to organise my own home. He controlled my finances, I literally had no idea what to do. “Having something like a trauma recovery centre, a one-stop wraparound place where you could go, would have made a massive difference to my life.” The Farmborough Heights mother of three was only 20 years old when she met her first husband in Sydney. “We were together for six years. The abuse started really quickly, it was probably in the first year but I just thought that I could make a difference and I could change the behaviour,” Ms Donayre said. “I thought getting married would make a difference, I thought having a child would make a difference, and it just didn’t and eventually we had my daughter and he left when she was about eight months old.” Now aged 50, the one-time Burwood City councillor features in a photographic exhibition showcasing the “resilience and resistance” of domestic violence survivors. “I think it is important to have our voices out there as much as possible. The messaging of survival and resilience is also important,” she said. The exhibition is a collaboration between the Mercury’s award-winning photographer Sylvia Liber and the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre. A Photographic Exhibition of Resilience and Resistance will launch at Project Contemporary Artspace in Wollongong on November 25 – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. We depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.

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