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Women suffer ‘horrendous’ threat of violence

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The AMA has urged coordinated national action to clamp down on family violence amid disturbing evidence that more than half of all women will be physically or sexually assaulted at least once in their lives.

Speaking at the launch of the AMA Position Statement on Women’s Health 2014, AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton said violence against women was a major public health issue with serious and long-lasting detrimental consequences, and addressing it involved tackling the nation’s alcohol problem.

“About 50 per cent [of women] have experienced domestic violence,” Dr Hambleton said. “The rate in Aboriginal women is 35 times that…so it’s a particular problem that we have to focus on.”

At the launch, also attended by Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women, Michaelia Cash, Northern Territory Labor Senator and former Olympian Nova Peris backed the AMA’s call for greater attention on family and domestic violence.
In a heart-felt appeal for action, Senator Peris said Indigenous women in the Northern Territory, in particular, were suffering “horrendous” rates of domestic violence.

“An Indigenous woman is 80 times more likely to be hopistalised for assault than other Territorians,” Senator Peris said. “I shudder inside whenever I quote that fact, because it makes me picture the battered and bloodied women we see far too often in our hospitals. Every single night our emergency departments in the Northern Territory overflow with women who have been bashed.”

The Labor Senator linked many of the assaults to the abuse of alcohol, citing figures showing a resurgence in violence after restrictions on the sale of booze to people with a history of domestic violence were lifted.

“One of the most alarming facts about these horrendous statistics is that so much of it is preventable – and that’s because so much of it is caused by alcohol abuse,” she said.

Senator Peris said there were 2500 on the Territory’s Banned Drinker Register when it was scrapped following a change of government in 2012.
The following year, domestic assaults surged 22 per cent higher, and in the 14 months since its abolition, alcohol-related emergency department admissions have soared by 80 per cent, she said.

“I have met with doctors, nurses and staff from the emergency department in Alice Springs [Hospital], and they confirm these statistics represent the true predicament they face, day in, day out, on the front lines,” the Senator said. “Every night the place is awash with the victims of alcohol fuelled violence, with the vast majority of victims being women.”

Senator Peris called on the AMA to use its “extremely high standing in the community to advocate for more action in tackling alcohol-related domestic violence”.
Dr Hambleton responded that “we do have to take up the challenge…to actually highlight the issues in relation to alcohol misuse”.
Following the release of the Position Statement, the AMA President had a meeting with Prime Minister Tony Abbott during which the possibility of a National Summit on alcohol misuse was discussed.

“As a nation, the damage that alcohol is causing is something that we need to turn around,” Dr Hambleton said.

The AMA Position Statement showed that alcohol-fuelled violence was just one of many serious issues affecting the health of women.

Dr Hambleton said it attempted to provide an overview of the many challenges of women’s health, and its many aspects.

“We examine biological, social and cultural factors, along with socioeconomic circumstances and other determinants of health, exposure to the health risks, access to health information and health services, and health outcomes,” the AMA President said. “Our Position Statement is comprehensive, but I fear it only scratches the surface.”

Dr Hambleton said that although women tended to live longer than men, they also suffered more bouts of ill health, had a higher burden of chronic disease, saw medical practitioners more frequently and took more medicine.

The Position Statement can be viewed at: position-statement/womens-health

Adrian Rollins