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Trauma Informed Care for Victims of Sexual Violence

10 August 2023 - Anna Cartwright

Sexual violence is a pervasive issue in Australian society with 22% of women and 6.1% of men experiencing sexual violence since the age of 15. Healthcare professionals play a crucial role in identifying and responding to sexual violence disclosures. The point of disclosure provides an opportunity to address patient needs with trauma informed care. 


Trauma informed care considers the varied impacts of trauma, and emphasises physical, psychological and social safety. It provides opportunities for patient control and empowerment. A sense of control is vital in the response to sexual violence, and related loss of autonomy and control for the victim/survivor. Trauma informed care aims to avoid additional trauma, focusing on treating and managing the outcomes of the traumatic event. 

Trauma Informed Care has the following principles:

Safety - ensure physical, psychological and emotional safety

Practice Example: avoiding victim-blaming statements and make it clear that the perpetrator alone is responsible and accountable for their violence

“This is not your fault”

“You deserve to be safe”

Trustworthiness - maximise trust through task clarity, consistency and interpersonal boundaries

Practice Example: keep the patient informed of progress on actions and be clear about limitations to assistance and confidentiality

“It may not be possible for me to tell you whether you’ve been raped, but I can examine you and advise if there are injuries that need care.”

Choice - maximise patient choice and control

Practice Example: facilitate choice of healthcare practitioner gender or examination format where practicable 

“I can do a full or a limited genital examination and explain the respective advantages and disadvantages.”

Collaboration - maximise collaboration and power-sharing

Practice Example: work with patients to identify needs and preferences and provide relevant intervention options.

“I understand that you are worried about HIV; I can explain the risks of infection and treatment options. We can then decide if medication is the right choice for you.”

Empowerment - prioritise patient empowerment and skill-building

Practice Example: provide information so patients can make informed decisions about their treatment and recovery. 

“I understand you are worried about the effect on your work; let’s discuss how we can draw on your strengths”

These concepts and patient consultation, medical care, documentation and referrals are explored in depth in Monash University’s Unit 2 – Responding to Sexual Violence in Adults, one of three units delivered in the Recognising and Responding to Sexual Violence in Adults course. The Program is delivered by the Department of Forensic Medicine and consortia partner, the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) at no cost to participants.

The training is funded by the Commonwealth Department of Social Services under the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022-2032. It equips healthcare professionals with skills to recognise and respond appropriately to adult disclosures of sexual violence.

For more information, eligibility requirements, or to register your interest please see the following link:



  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Personal Safety, Australia Canberra (AU): 2023



Anna Cartwright
Anna Cartwright
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