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Our goal is that all of our services and programs contribute to an organisation wide evidence base that is used for strategic decision-making, service delivery and to influence policy.

Practitioners’ report on client experiences during COVID

Advocating on behalf of our clients, we are committed to informing and influencing policy, legislation and community attitudes. We actively lead and participate in research, service evaluation and quality assurance processes to strengthen our specialist service response.

In April, we collected responses from our specialist practitioners across the Barwon and Wimmera areas, including our Orange Door staff, about the impact of COVID-19 on sexual assault and family violence clients.

The responses found clients from both areas were exposed to escalating violence, psychological abuse and financial control during the height of social distancing restrictions. Our survey of 39 specialist practitioners found more than half reported their clients experienced an increase in or intensified experience of trauma symptoms.

62 per cent of practitioners said clients experienced an escalation in the severity of types of violence, including strangulation, while 72 per cent of practitioners said clients experienced violence specifically linked to COVID-19.

Nearly three-quarters of practitioners said clients had presented with more complex needs since the start of the pandemic, while 64 per cent of practitioners said clients needed more support.

Clients had also reported to their practitioners that they were experiencing higher parenting stress, challenges with home schooling and an increased need to negotiate child custody arrangements.

Practitioners said stay-at-home orders left clients feeling like they could not leave the house they shared with their abusers and had to be equipped with de-escalation strategies. While many clients said abusers used the pandemic to instill fear in the family so they didn’t leave their homes, some perpetrators had used their “essential worker” status to access children.

The impact of this research has informed our operations and support offering to clients. We have been able to utilise this research to support our advocacy work and inform partners and media of the impact that COVID-19 is having on clients. We are proud that this piece of work has helped support and influence the community.

A full copy of the Practitioners Report is available here. 

Embracing the lived experience

We acknowledge the strength and resilience of all people impacted by sexual assault and all women, children and young people impacted by family violence. The power and courage shared through the lived experience of those who have been impacted by violence helps us to create safe, supportive, and responsive services across our organisation.

Throughout the year, our past clients have continued to use their voices and raise awareness of violence within the community through our group program development, fundraising initiatives, media interviews, training and events. Past clients have also been a vital voice within our advocacy and submissions for policy change.

We have also embraced the lived experience of young people who have experienced sexual assault and family violence and the impact on their physical and emotional health and wellbeing to inform our programs, including the new therapeutic group program, TACT-Y.

We thank all of our clients who have found the courage to share their stories and advocate the importance of support services to government and the community.

Nadia*, 16 years old, was seeking counselling support due to her experiences of childhood sexual abuse. When she attended her first counselling appointment with her parents in February, she was immediately drawn to playing the musical instruments and identified she did not feel comfortable in talk-based therapy however had a strong interest in music and drawing upon this resource in counselling. 

The relationship between Nadia and the Counsellor Advocate was developed through talking about music and the ways that this has been both helpful and unhelpful throughout her life. A ritual was started in each session, where Nadia would share her favourite songs by artist Eminem while Nadia and the Counsellor Advocate wrote, and then the song lyrics would be explored in relation to her own experiences of trauma, loss and hope. Nadia expressed an interest in writing a song early on in the counselling process, and this became a focus for the work in order to support Nadia to process her experiences of trauma and to provide an opportunity for emotional and creative expression. Within the Health Direct platform, all of the ideas were written on the whiteboard throughout this discussion. The next few sessions focused on developing song lyrics, with Nadia deciding to write a rap in the style of Eminem, using one her favourite songs as a basis for the melody.

Nadia reported feeling proud of herself for writing and recording a song and for expressing how she was feeling and what was important to her, which had previously been something she had found challenging. Nadia also shared her song with her mother outside of the session, which provided an opportunity for positive connection and sharing part of herself.

While finding her voice through music, Nadia also became more comfortable to share parts of her trauma history and current worries in relation to school, family and COVID-19, and she has reflected that using music in sessions to help her feel safe and to find words to unpack her experiences.

The Sexual Assault & Family Violence Centre acknowledges the traditional owners and custodians of the land we stand on. We are committed to working toward creating a community where all people indigenous and non-indigenous are safe, connected and empowered to live well. The Sexual Assault & Family Violence Centre recognises the diverse needs of our community and we ensure our services are inclusive of all children, young people and their families including those who are of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, from culturally and/or linguistically diverse backgrounds, those who identify as LGBTIQ and persons living with disability. We work collaboratively with people and partner organisations who also support our diverse client group. Interpreter and translator services are available to all our clients upon request.

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