Misogyny, racism, poverty and violence pervade the lives of our most vulnerable and compromise the health and wellbeing of us all. If we are committed to justice, we are responsible for countering these violations by building a society based on equity, inclusion and peace.
Lorna McNamara began work in the mental health and disability sectors in the early 1970s and quickly became dismayed by the high levels of abuse and discrimination experienced by children and adults using these services. Several years later, while working as Coordinator of the Community Emergency Support Centre in Townsville, she began to focus on the effects of sexual abuse and other forms of trauma. She observed that violence and abuse were common experiences for women, children and men living in temporary housing, and also that for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, overt racism and discrimination had a profound impact on their health and wellbeing. In the early 1980s, as Coordinator of the Coffs Harbour Youth Refuge, Lorna again found that a history of sexual abuse was prevalent among the young women using the service. As a result of this, working with other like-minded women, Lorna established a steering committee which eventually secured funding for Coffs Harbour’s first sexual assault service.
In 1994 Lorna began work at the NSW Health Education Centre Against Violence (ECAV) as the senior health educator for the mental health and sexual assault portfolio. ECAV has the broad remit to oversee workforce capacity development and training in six specific areas: child protection, sexual assault, domestic violence, Aboriginal communities, cultural diversity, and sexual assault in the context of mental health. ECAV places particular emphasis on responding to the needs of children, young people, adults, families and communities that have experienced trauma and abuse in situations where the health, justice and welfare sectors have yet to fully identify or respond to those needs. As senior educator for mental health, Lorna was involved in the research project, ‘Every Boundary Broken’ (1997), which identified the risk of sexual assault for women using mental health services. Recommendations from this report were fundamental to establishing policy on sexual safety in NSW mental health services.
Lorna became Director of ECAV in 2002. In recognition of the devastating impact of colonisation, racism, discrimination and white privilege on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in NSW, in 2003 ECAV established the Aboriginal Communities Matter Advisory Group (ACMAG) to provide an Aboriginal community voice and expert advice to ECAV management on racism, discrimination, white privilege, intergenerational trauma, cultural safety, Aboriginal healing frameworks and workforce development. ACMAG has been fundamental to establishing and building a skilled Aboriginal workforce in the areas of child protection, violence prevention and response.
The scope of educational programs delivered by ECAV includes Aboriginal and bilingual community development modules, professional development workshops, Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) accredited skill sets, ASQA accredited qualifications and postgraduate programs in universities. These comprehensive and highly evaluated programs are supported by resources and materials which are developed in close collaboration with the sector, including interagency partners, to ensure that good collaborative practice is demonstrated within and across agencies, enabling workers to share language, concepts and understandings around roles and responsibilities.
The Centre is based in Parramatta but offers training across NSW and interstate. It also provides practitioners with access to national and international educators who are experts in their field.