Cameron Boyd and Heather Clarke

Departments

Thirty years promoting prevention and recovery from sexual assault

Walking through the front door of the Northern Centre Against Sexual Assault (NCASA) makes you feel safe.

Perhaps it's the array of stickers on the front door assuring that people of all genders and cultural backgrounds are welcome. It could be the couches, toys and mugs for tea that make the waiting room feel more like a lounge room; the warm welcome you receive from office manager Sue as you walk through the door; or the natural light streaming in the large, old-fashioned windows.

For 30 years now, NCASA has provided sexual assault counselling to people in the north of Melbourne - and originally to the entire northeast.

Initially, it was based in a five-bedroom house in Martin Street, Heidelberg - almost in the shadow of the Austin Hospital, but not affiliated with it officially.

Manager of NCASA, Heather Clarke, says that the original facilities were overcrowded from the beginning.

"There were stories of staff having to come out onto the verandah so that other staff could meet with clients, or of client meetings being held in the kitchen," Heather says.

Heather says that in those days NCASA was seen as a community service and rape and sexual assault were seen as justice or social issues, rather than health issues.

The work done by the collective CASAs has contributed to the paradigm shift that now places sexual assault firmly within healthcare. Today the service operates out of the Emergency Department, fills a building at the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital, and last year spread into another.

Heather estimates that in its 30-year history, NCASA's counsellors have provided 2920 crisis care responses to recent sexual assault victims, face-to-face counselling to 14,232 clients, telephone counselling to an additional 15,443 clients and facilitated over 100 group programs. At different times throughout the year, it also runs group sessions, including trauma-informed yoga, a men's support group, music therapy and a men's art group.


Demand for NCASA's services has increased significantly in recent years: between 2012/23 and 2017/18, new referrals to the centre have increased by 46 per cent and crisis care responses by 79 per cent.

NCASA has also run conferences, issued reports and launched a number of innovative programs throughout its 30-year history, including the highly-successful Respecting Relationships program, which is now run in seven schools, and a program with the Aboriginal community called ‘Safe pathways to healing'. 

For boys and men

NCASA recently celebrated its 30th birthday with a celebration at the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital.

The event was also used to launch new resources that NCASA have developed for boys and young men.

Cameron Boyd is one of the NCASA counsellors who was involved in developing the resources. He says that they were developed in response to feedback from the Respectful Relationships team that there was a need for specific resources for boys and young men, as there is for young women.

He says that it's still a common misconception too that only women experience sexual assault, something that has prevented men from coming forward.

"There are also general stereotypes of masculinity; of men not needing help, and not wanting to be seen as vulnerable," Cameron says.

"Some Australian research has indicated that men wait on average for about 10 years longer than women before seeking help."

 

He says too that the recent Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse "has really given people permission to come forward, and a sense that they'll be believed. The number of men we see has steadily increased."

Together with a social work placement student, Cameron set about creating some resources that acknowledge that boys and men experience sexual assault, and that make it clear that NCASA is a service that they can come to.

After undertaking some research about how boys and young men seek help, Cameron says that "it was very obvious that the resources needed to be online, be short and easy to access, and communicate that seeking help is safe and can be useful."

The posters and videos for boys and young men are available on the Austin Health website