News and Events

Royal Commission into Family Violence report due 29 March

RCFV_1The Royal Commission into Family Violence is due to deliver its report and recommendations on 29 March 2016.

In the lead up to this date we will be sending out #RCFV and #PVAW reminders to our friends and supporters via social media on what we want to see from the Royal Commission in the areas of:

  • Family violence response
  • Family violence prevention
  • Investment in women’s health services to coordinate prevention of violence against women

The Women’s Health Association of Victoria, the peak body for Victorian women’s health services, has also put together key messages for the Royal Commission into Family Violence. Have a read: RCFV WHAV Key messages March 2016

Get more information

See what Women’s Health West and our partners have already recommended to the Royal Commission into Family Violence:

We were a signatory to the following:

And go here if you want more information on the Royal Commission into Family Violence (Victoria).

Update on Criminalising ‘Revenge Porn’

Thoughtful_girl_WEBby Emma Weaver, Health Promotion Worker – Policy & Development 

Remember our previous blog about the push to criminalise ‘revenge porn’? Well, this matter ended up being referred to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Reference Committee for inquiry. We filed a written submission and the committee is due to report back on 25 February 2016 (Ed: the committee has since reported back and you can read their findings online).

In this recent submission we restated our support for criminalising the behaviour of sharing sexually explicit images without a person or persons’ consent via all forms of telecommunications including SMS, email, websites and social media. This is important in creating a gender equitable, safe, inclusive and fair Australia for women and girls.

Our concerns

But we also stated our concerns with the term ‘revenge porn’. Our concern is that public discourse has predominantly focussed on the problem arising because of ‘naïve users’. The term ‘revenge porn’ supports this dialogue by suggesting the victim/survivor is to blame for taking a ‘pornographic’ image in the first place. It also implies that the victim/survivor actively engaged in the making of the image, which is often not the case. For example, we know that this form of violence can be done to ‘shame and humiliate the subject, or punish them for discontinuing the relationship’ by a current or ex-partner (Henry & Powell, 2015).

Our recommendations

We recommended to federal government that the offence be named ‘sexual violence perpetrated on information and communication technologies’ and the subsequent acronym of ‘ICT sexual violence’. This positions the offence within a framework of gender-based violence, placing responsibility with the perpetrator of this form of cyber exploitation rather than with the victim/survivor in the image.

Our support

Women’s Health West supports this legislative change as an opportunity for the government to provide a clear moral compass of the values of our society and the severity and unacceptability of this form of harassment and violence against women (Salter, 2015). Developing a specific federal criminal law against ICT sexual violence will create greater visibility for this offence and support victims/survivors to have their individual rights and dignity protected.

Essentially this legislative change will be a positive step towards protecting women and girl’s basic human rights to be free from mental, emotional and physical violence and the right to privacy and bodily integrity.

For more detail and to follow the status of the inquiry as it unfolds click here.


Henry, N and Powell, A, 2015, ‘Beyond the ‘sext’: Technology-facilitated sexual violence and harassment against adult women’, Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology, Vol. 48(10) 104-118.

Salter, M & Crofts, T, 2015, forthcoming, Responding to revenge porn: Challenging online legal impunity. In Comella, L & Tarrant, S (Eds.) New views on pornography: Sexuality, politics and the law. Praeger Publisher: Westport.

Pap screen changes take health equity backwards

By Alyce Vella, Health Promotion Worker


Proposed changes to pap screen bulk-billing will have a significant impact on women who work, play and reside in the west, and will likely further exacerbate health inequity among women who experience disadvantage. Changes could result in patients paying up to $30 for a pap smear.

Only 58 per cent of women aged 20-69 participated in the National Cervical Screening Program in 2012-2013. Rates of screening among women residing in the western region of Melbourne are lower than the national average; as low as 44 per cent in some local government areas. It is likely that this number will reduce even further if added financial pressure is placed on women, let alone the increased effort required to identify a bulk-billing clinic if clinics increase their patient contribution.

Who will be impacted?

Marginalised community groups who are already presenting at low rates for pap screens are likely to be impacted, including Aboriginal women, migrant and refugee women, young women, women with a disability, lesbian and bisexual women, and victims/survivors of sexual violence. Incidence and mortality outcomes among Aboriginal women are particularly dire; Aboriginal women are 2.3 times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to develop cervical cancer (incidence rate), and almost 3.5 times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to die from cervical cancer, highlighting an already significant gap in health care among this community group.

Why the change?

One of the arguments for the proposed changes is that increased accessibility to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine (which protects against the high risk HPV strains that play a large role in the development of cervical cancer) is likely to see a reduced incidence of cervical cancer in the future, reducing the demand for pap screens. However, it is important to note that routine pap screens with a nurse or GP often act as a mediator for discussions about other routine health checks, such as breast screening for older women and STI testing for sexually active women, particularly for young women who are at highest risk of STIs such as chlamydia. With rates of chlamydia in some parts of Melbourne’s west almost three times greater than the state average, these opportunistic discussions are vital to the sexual and reproductive health of women in the west.

Some concerns

Arguably the most important concern with the proposed changes to pap screen bulk-billing are the potential impacts on women seeking out health care in a timely, preventative manner. According to the Victorian Cervical Cytology Registry, ‘almost 90 per cent of all Victorian women who develop cervical cancer have either never had a test, or did not have a test routinely in the ten years prior to their diagnosis’, highlighting that the additional barriers to screening, such as the ones proposed, are likely to result in even more alarming statistics.

Increasing culturally appropriate and responsive cervical screening service delivery and coordination throughout Melbourne’s west is an objective of Action for Equity, the sexual and reproductive health plan for Melbourne’s west. The Action for Equity partnership is led by Women’s Health West.


Rebuilding the bonds with children

mum_hugs_boyBy Nadine, a children’s counsellor at Women’s Health West

I work with children who have seen or heard family violence. Sometimes they may have helped to clean up after, or helped defend their mothers or carers against violence. Their pets may have been harmed, or toys destroyed or left behind if they’ve had to flee.

Some children have been directly physically abused. They can become withdrawn, act like parents themselves, or act out. For children displaying their distress by acting out aggressively, relationships can become increasingly difficult; a mother may find her child’s behaviour reminiscent of the violence she has experienced.  A mother’s parenting is nearly always undermined by family violence, and her relationships with her children affected.

Let me share with you the abridged therapeutic adventures of a six-year-old boy I worked with during our children’s counselling sessions. We’ll call him ‘Emmett’, but it’s not his real name.

At school Emmett was aggressively targeting girls. He was having trouble making and keeping friends due to his delayed social skills. He was still wetting his pants. In the classroom, his capacity to sit still in order to listen, learn and respond, was very limited.

At home Emmett and his sister fought vicious fights, often resulting in injury. They found it difficult to tolerate sharing the attention of their mother. Emmett would often lash out at her, physically and verbally.

When I first met Emmett he was viewed by some people in his world as a ‘very naughty boy’.

BUT Emmett had experienced significant family violence his entire life. Emmett was unsure of trusting others, and had little experience of feeling safe. His trauma was relational, and this is where the repair needed to start. Emmett’s mother had fled the violence so he and his siblings were safe.

In the course of our work together Emmett tested me to see if I was trustworthy. We played and made art, the natural language of children which enables them to make sense of their experiences. I followed his lead.

The protagonists in his work were always alone and in danger, always losing the ‘war’! Emmett was devastated about leaving his toys behind when the family fled, and felt this was somehow further punishment for being a ‘bad boy’.

Choosing Positive Paths, a resource developed by Women’s Health West and Berry Street, outlines some connection focused activities I might use as a guide when working with mothers to rebuild their relationships with their children following family violence.

It focuses on mothers and carers being the most important people in moving this process forward. The simple language used in Choosing Positive Paths makes the information easy to understand, and the daunting task of repairing a relationship a little more tangible: Play with your child. Be curious about your child’s thoughts and feelings. Catch them behaving well! Talk to them in age appropriate language about the tough stuff that has happened.

Emmett’s mother came to understand that her son’s attacks on her were not personal, but rather the kind of behaviour that had been modelled in the home previously. She began to use the motto of ‘ALL feelings are okay, but not all behaviours are okay’. She practiced acknowledging her children’s emotions. Emmett’s mother was eventually able to talk with Emmett about the conflicting feelings that came up for him in relation to his father: ‘I love him, but he was scary sometimes. I miss him, BUT I don’t miss the scariness’.

Emmett had practiced these themes in the safety of the counselling room, and Emmett’s mother and I had practiced together too, using similar language to that contained in Choosing Positive Paths. A resource like this can provide mums with simple suggestions and information prior to engaging with counselling, or in between counselling sessions.

It’s child focused. It’s trauma informed.

Emmett’s protagonists began to gather armies so he was no longer alone; the wars were being won, and some of the heroes were women! Eventually the wars stopped all together (inside the therapy room and outside at school and home). Normal sibling rivalry settled in between Emmett and his sister.

And while it wasn’t all happily ever after in Emmett’s family, enough understanding and hope had been gained to shift things for the better between mother and child.

This is an edited version of a speech Nadine presented at the launch of the Choosing Positive Paths resource at Parliament House in December 2016. The resource was officially launched by the Hon Jenny Mikakos MP, Minister for Families and Children.

Choosing Positive Paths is a resource developed for mothers, carers and other protective parents to support children affected by family violence. You can order or download here.

Find out more information about WHW Children’s Counselling services: http://whwest.org.au/resource/childrens-counselling-service/

Illustration by Isis and Pluto

There is no way I could have done this alone

FV Services blog_Jan16_finalSarah* lives in Melbourne’s west, she is a victim of family violence. Read a short story about Sarah and how she got the support she needed…

Sarah’s husband abused her emotionally and psychologically throughout their ten-year marriage and threatened to kill her if she tried to leave.


When he seriously assaulted Sarah, Victoria Police applied for an intervention order on her behalf and she was granted a one-year intervention order.

A Women’s Health West case worker developed strategies to keep Sarah and her children safe, including working with police to implement the extreme risk client strategy to manage her risk and ensure their safety.


Sarah’s ex-partner’s relatives harassed Sarah at court so her case worker arranged for her to give evidence via video link and put her in touch with a community legal centre that organised a barrister for her. Sarah was granted a full three-year extension of the intervention order.


*Not her real name

If you are a victim of family violence, there are many services that can support you, you are not alone:

Check out our Who can help me page or download our Family Violence Crisis Outreach brochure

Key contacts:
Women’s Health West: 9689 9588
Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre: 1800 015 188