Leading the way in consumer engagement with victims of sexual assault

Ms Julie Watson, Ms Liana  Schnierer, Ms  Trudi  Contarino

1Townsville Hospital and Health Service, Townsville, Australia

Sexual assault is an issue of profound consequence, the impacts of which are far reaching.   The recent establishment of a collaborative ‘Sexual Assault Response Team’ (SART) within Townsville, North Queensland, has innovatively sought to increase and improve the engagement with victims of sexual assault in their model of care.  The support and care provided to victims (consumers of the service) by a specialised team has resulted in increased engagement with victims and a clear and supportive pathway for survivors of sexual assault.

The complex nature of sexual assault and the number of organisations with which a victim commonly must interact with, particularly at the time of crisis, typically characterises a daunting and confusing process. The process itself is often intensified, by involved organisations continuing to work in isolation, merely attempting to join up operationally when necessary. Such an approach ultimately places victims at a heightened risk for inappropriate, inadequate and potentially harmful intervention, with limited access to essential services and specialist sexual assault support. The need for greater interagency cooperation and service coordination in the provision of responses to victims of sexual assault has long been plainly apparent within the local Townsville community, and indeed more broadly across the State.

SART is a multidisciplinary, specialist team that comprises social workers, detectives, forensic nurses, and emergency department staff, that aims to provide a 24 hour coordinated crisis response, that is holistic, timely and trauma informed.   Guided by the perspectives of victims of sexual violence, the organisations involved acknowledge that individual healing and recovery, necessitates direct service delivery responsive consumer needs.  Moreover, organisations acknowledge that various systems with which survivors invariably engage, necessitate cultural and broader policy reform, in order to safeguard the rights, confidence and trust of victims.  Ultimately, SART remains committed to fostering change, for both individual survivors of sexual assault, and the local Townsville and broader Queensland community.


Julie Watson is Director of Social Work for the Townsville Hospital and Health Service (THHS), based at the Townsville Hospital.   She has had a strong interest in rural and remote health, workforce planning and professional development for Allied Health Professionals.

Working for Queensland Health for most of her career, Julie commenced work as a social worker at the Townsville General Hospital in 1987.  She has since worked in a range of roles that have involved project management, planning, training, community engagement, management and clinical work.

Julie is a strong advocate for community and consumer input in the health setting and is currently on the Board of the Townsville Hospital Foundation (THF).   She has been involved in a range of projects including some significant telehealth projects and the redevelopment of the Townsville Hospital.   She was responsible for facilitating consumer input and community engagement throughout these projects.

Her research interests have included utilising e-health in the clinical setting, improving services for Papua New Guinea patients at TTH, and discharge against medical advice in the TTH Emergency Department.

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