This report outlines the findings of the Preventing gender-based violence in mental health inpatient units project. The project aimed to investigate and document experiences of gender-based violence occurring in adult mental health inpatient units and perpetrated against those identifying as women, in order to inform how policy and practice can be improved to make these environments safe for women. The project aims were explored through the following two research questions:
- What are the experiences of gender-based violence for women staying in adult inpatient mental health units?
- How can these experiences inform and improve policy and service delivery?
The project involved researchers from RMIT University in Victoria and Charles Sturt University in New South Wales. Partner organisations included NorthWestern Mental Health, Mental Health Legal Centre and Victoria Legal Aid.
The interview findings were consistent with previous studies in that women reported experiences of gender-based violence in mental inpatient health units. The key emerging themes discussed in detail in this report are: the diversity of women’s experiences of gender-based violence, gender-based violence in the course of treatment, built environments and resourcing that contribute to women’s vulnerability, poor service responses that leave women to take responsibility for their own protection and a lack of trauma-informed care. Women also shared their solutions to address the issues raised.
The study found that women were exposed to a range of behaviours including: threats, harassment and sexual and physical violence. Perpetrators of gender-based violence were mostly male consumers but also included male staff members and other men known to the women, such as partners/expartners. Gender-based violence in the course of treatment included practices employed by staff, such as restraint and seclusion. Women noted that gender-based violence can heighten over the period of a stay, whereby, if incidents are not addressed adequately, the violence can escalate.