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Women not safe from violence in mental health inpatient facilities

RMIT Media Release

Women who spend time in mental health inpatient facilities are not being protected from gender-based violence, according to new research.

The study, “Preventing gender-based violence in mental health inpatient units” shows women have experienced sexual assault, harassment and related threats from other inpatients, visitors and even staff in some facilities.

Conducted by researchers from RMIT University and Charles Sturt University, the study also found many services lacked appropriate policies and procedures to support women who reported such violence during their stay.

Lead researcher from RMIT, Dr Juliet Watson, said while some examples of women receiving supportive responses were uncovered, incidents of harassment were frequently disbelieved or not taken seriously.

“Women told us about staff who dismiss their experiences as misperceptions and tell them to ignore it,” Watson said.

“But if a woman is perceiving some behaviour as violent, she should have the opportunity to decide what action is taken. Staff should then respond in a way that ensures she feels safe.”

Many of the female clients staying in these facilities have previously survived violent trauma.

The study found the experience of being restrained by staff, which is common during treatment, may also be a trigger for traumatic memories of past abuse.

Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) commissioned the study.

ANROWS CEO Dr Heather Nancarrow said there was an urgent need for trauma-informed care.

“This is a profound breach of trust by our health system,” Dr Nancarrow said.

“Mental health service providers need training and support. It’s crucial they understand the impact their actions might have on women with a history of sexual, domestic or family violence.”

“If women are to have access to safe, dignified and effective mental healthcare, we need to build a gender lens into hospital policies and procedures.”

She said the study was part of ANROWS’s growing body of evidence about how an understanding of gendered violence can be embedded in health policy and services.

This research includes the WITH and SUSTAIN studies, and ‘Constructions of complex trauma and implications for women’s wellbeing and safety from violence‘.

While mental health facilities have introduced processes to protect inpatients from violence, the models most commonly used across Australia do not employ a gender lens, and as a result leave women exposed to gendered violence, including domestic violence.

“We need mental health facilities to place the agency of women at the centre of their treatment,” Nancarrow said.

“This means consulting closely with each woman to build a plan of recovery that is sensitive to her history and respects her own judgement about what will keep her safe.”

“Feeling safe is a requirement for getting well.”


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  1. Jasper McGavin

    There is always staff on patient violence in secure mental health facilities, it’s not just from other patients.
    Also ambulance officers have carte blanche to use any type of violence to administer PRN. There is also no limit on the amount or type of injections that can be applied. I was strapped down to a guernsey and injected after I had already slipped into a drug induced coma. Once the security guards have you on the ground, they start going hard as there is no accountability for them either.

  2. Josephus

    Jasper that is terrible . Did you complain?
    I have found that in hospital dangerous anti psychotic drugs may be administered without informing the patient or the family, that the name of the person prescribing is omitted, as is the commencement date. After I found my partner rapidly deteriorating I found out ,weeks later, that he was now on a horrible drug that was not suitable. The specialist did not know that either . Nor were the side effects monitored, as this drug necessitates.
    None of this is legal I believe , but I dare not complain as such casual behaviour is apparently common in old age homes and hospitals too. I suspect that if I say a word my partner will be black listed, so land up in one of those psycho wards too, to be bashed by a burly nurse or something,
    Perhaps Jasper you were afraid to complain too.

  3. Jasper

    Complaint was made to the Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service. Took months to reply and did not address the issues. Complaint was then made to the Queensland Ombudsman, he was so concerned about the systemic abuse at Toowoomba Hospital he issued a PID. This was ignored for months by the DDHHS and then they forwarded it on to the CCC which took my complaint out of the hands of the Ombudsman. CCC replied that it was not their area and still no response from DDHHS despite many requests to the Ombudsman. I am on a Treatment Authority, and was told by the treating psychiatrist Dr Furhan Iqbal that my retention was “political, or partly political”. there is no place for politics in health treatment. The Queensland Mental Health is a closed book, there is no rights (as supposed to be under the Act), no input from me or family members. The whole system is an infinite closed loop of passing the buck, no accountability and a massive tax costing gravy train for the psychiatric profession. The Australian Human Rights Commissioner will not get involved despite lack of rights for patients.

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