By Steph McNicol

EMPOWERING victims of family violence is a goal of The Kilmore and District Hospital staff, as part of a Strengthening Hospital Responses to Family Violence program.

Hospitals are often the first point of call for a victim of family violence, which makes it critical for emergency service workers and urgent care centres staff to be familiar with the program.

A clinical support nurse from The Kilmore and District Hospital, Regi McKinlay, said the program was about empowering the victims.

“I am one of the nurses making sure that we have a shared understanding of what family violence is, so that we can recognise signs and sensitively enquire and have the right response to refer people onto the services they need,” she said.

“We talk about them as being victims once they are in the situation and as survivors once they have managed to empower themselves and get out of the situation.”

Ms McKinlay said family violence often meant one person was in control of the other, and the other in fear because of the control.

“The perpetrator will often manipulate the victim into staying whether it’s financially, socially, emotionally, physically, sexually or spiritually. This can result in the erosion of the victim’s confidence and have a severe effect on their mental health,” she said.

“Without confidence, they will begin feeling the situation is their fault and self-blame. This means depression and anxiety will often increase or manifest for the first time in their life.”

The SHRFV nurse said the manipulation also meant the victim was socially isolated.
“They often can’t see their family or friends or any support systems. This only increases feelings of loneliness and hopelessness,” she said.

“A victim at this stage can start feeling suicidal and thinking their life isn’t worth anything. Often, to try and cope with the constant fear inflicted on them by the perpetrator, victims will try to numb their emotions with alcohol and drugs.”

Ms McKinlay said the effects of family violence were ongoing.

“Even when a victim decides to take the steps to get out of an abusive relationship and becomes a survivor, the effects can be long-lasting. This can mean low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, PTSD, alcohol and drug use disorders,” she said.

More than 50 per cent of women experiencing family violence have children in their care.
“Victims of violence don’t get to choose their situation, so for example with children, they are constantly on alert, hypervigilant and trying to predict an unpredictable abusive environment,” the nurse said.

A study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies showed that 67 per cent of children exposed to family violence were at greate risk of developmental issues involving academic success, cognitive ability and mental health.

“A child being exposed to family violence over a sustained period of time, by either witnessing abusive behaviour or experiencing violence themselves, may develop complex

trauma symptoms including PTSD,” she said.

• For assistance in crisis call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Safe Steps Victoria Violence Response Centre 1800 015 188, Men’s Referral Service 1300 766 491, 24/7 Counselling Service 1300 RESPECT or Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.