Australia’s first accredited training for health practitioners and frontline workers to improve responses to victims of sexual violence

Monash University has developed Australia’s first training course accredited by multiple professional bodies to help health professionals and frontline workers better recognise and respond to victims of sexual violence.

Over the next 18 months the training will be delivered to hundreds of health professionals including GPs and nurses in rural and remote areas who work regularly with patients at higher risk of experiencing sexual violence.

Minister for Women’s Safety Anne Ruston visited Monash University’s Department of Forensic Medicine which received $4.5 million from the Morrison Government to develop and implement the training across Australia in partnership with the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine.

“It is vital that when someone discloses an experience of sexual violence their disclosure is handled with care and this training arms healthcare professionals with that expertise,” Minister Ruston said.

“Course participants will learn about all forms of sexual violence and how to identify risk factors and respond to disclosures in culturally sensitive and appropriate ways, including developing an understanding of referral pathways, protective support services and justice options.

“Importantly the training covers how to identify medical presentations and diagnoses that may be indicators of sexual violence so we can intervene sooner and ensure victims get the support they need immediately.”

Federal Member for Higgins Katie Allen said the new training package has clearly met demand with 77 expressions of interest received from health professionals for the first unit on offer which was already at capacity with 25 people enrolled.

“What sets this training a part is that each six-hour unit will be delivered over a six-week period and will accrue Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points towards a health practitioner’s annual professional development registration requirement,” Dr Allen said.

“This initiative is a significant step in changing the dial with how medical practitioners can identify and better support women traumatised by violence.”

Future course participants will also include social workers, youth workers, Indigenous frontline workers, teachers, police and corrections staff, psychologists, counsellors, disability workers, legal professionals, aged care workers, not-for-profit support organisation staff, community and faith leaders, and human resources professionals.

The curriculum lead for this project, Associate Professor David Wells, Senior Education Coordinator for Monash University’s Department of Forensic Medicine, said sexual violence was pervasive, destructive and criminal behaviour and impacts the lives of thousands of Australians every year. 

“A large amount of my professional life has been spent assisting victims in the days and weeks after they have experienced such an assault, and for many victims, life never returns to normal,” Associate Professor Wells said.

“The physical, emotional and social impacts can be brutal and crippling, and the damage is not confined to the victim. There can be long term negative impacts to the next generation, to communities, and wider society. 

“While there has been a lot of work done on improving frontline workers’ understanding of domestic and family violence, there is limited awareness of how to recognise and respond to disclosures of sexual violence in ways that support recovery.

“This program is a key element in early intervention and improving frontline workers’ ability to provide trauma-informed care and planning to support long term recovery.”

The first unit of face-to-face training will be delivered via Zoom on 16 August 2021 and has been accredited by multiple professional bodies including the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), the College of Emergency Medicine and the College of Rural and Remote Medicine.

Each module will be supported with practical guidelines and assessment tools, and units two and three are expected to be delivered later this year.