New research aims to streamline sexual assault services

Image of a male hand gripping a female hand agressively.
New research on sexual assault and mental health aims to streamline health system responses.

An exhibition giving voice to sexual assault survivors will be launched with new research on better integrating Victoria’s sexual assault and mental health services.

Funded by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS), the $300 000 study called for health system responses to sexual assault and mental health problems to be further streamlined, particularly in hospitals.

A sexual violence survivor who helped with the study will launch the related exhibition, Hear Me, Connect, Help Me Heal at the Royal Women’s Hospital on 23 May. The interactive digital and PhotoVoice display exhibition sees survivors and practitioners recall their experiences in an interactive digital display.

ANROWS CEO Dr Heather Nancarrow said the project will now support the development of an organisational model to further integrate mental health and sexual assault services.

“Many women who have been sexually assaulted experience poor mental health, requiring support for this trauma as an integrated, holistic response,” Dr Nancarrow said.

Study project leader Kelsey Hegarty from the University of Melbourne and the Royal Women’s Hospital said women who have experienced mental health problems and sexual assault understand the importance of trauma-informed care and empowerment approaches.

“We feel that a trauma and violence-informed framework enables a holistic response to women experiencing mental health problems and sexual violence,” Professor Hegarty said.

Professor Hegarty said the complexity of hospital systems requires a multi-faceted approach.

“Relationship building emerged as a strong theme in the research with women and staff,” Professor Hegarty said.

“Teams within and across services need to build a shared understanding of their different frameworks and roles. Reflecting on organisational culture and environment is likely to enhance change, although further evaluation of trials implementing the systems model of care are needed."

The research will be launched with the Hear Me, Connect, Help Me Heal exhibition in The Atrium, Ground Floor, the Royal Women’s Hospital Flemington Rd, Parkville, at 2.15pm on Tuesday, 23 May, followed by a practitioner roundtable.