Note: this story contains references to sexual assault.
Hearing about sexual assault can be difficult and potentially triggering, especially for survivors. But throughout February it has been difficult to avoid.
Allegations of rape and revelations of a toxic culture in Parliament have dominated headlines, and frontline services have told Crikey they’ve been struggling to cope.
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A spokesperson from Blue Knot Foundation — which helps adults traumatised as children recover — said there had been a 10% increase in calls, though numbers have since returned to normal levels.
Eleanor Campbell, acting operations manager at Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, told Crikey that media coverage had caused many survivors to grapple with new emotions.
“We’ve been in contact with existing clients who are finding the wall of media around this really triggering, and we’re finding a lot of new clients who have never engaged us before and are quite confused about their response which is only coming up for them for the first time,” she said.
“It’s covering a whole range of survivors from those who experienced sexual harassment or sexual harm in the workplace to people who have experienced sexual harm in institutional and very historic experiences.
“We’re also finding that very strong emotions are being triggered by feelings of injustice.”
Grace Tame’s address to the National Press Club on Wednesday caused more calls, Campbell said.
“It made everyone slow down and reflect on how this was all impacting [survivors],” she said.
Campbell noted that a surge in calls shows the message of where to find support is out there, but more resources for frontline services were always needed.
She said KPI-driven and short-term funding meant organisations often struggled to deal with surges, and a short influx of cash does little to provide immediate help as workers have to be trained.
“We are absolutely flat out,” she said.
1800RESPECT received more than 21,600 calls across February while a spokesperson from Lifeline said call numbers had remained high since the bushfires in 2019 and 2020, rising again still during COVID-19.
“Through 2020 we regularly received over 3000 calls a day [and] the high level of calls has been sustained into 2021,” the spokesperson said.
“There has been plenty of media interest in mental health services and thankfully journalists have been working hard to ensure that the community is aware of how important it is to access support when needed.”
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.