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Associate Professor Susan Rees

Dr Susan Rees is an Associate Professor working in Psychiatry, with a public health, behavioural science and social policy background. Her research focus is refugee mental health, gender, human rights and gender-based violence. In 2009 she came to UNSW as an ARC QE11 Research Fellow, and brought with her research interests with West Papuan refugees, East Timorese refugees (her PhD focus), gender and mental health, and gendered forms of violence in refugee populations. She has worked as a practitioner in the domestic violence sector, as well as in policy positions related to women’s health and service development. She was technical advisor and an invited expert panel member on the Australian National Survey of Community Attitudes to Violence against Women, and she was invited to contribute a “think piece” to inform Australian’s National Policy to Prevent Violence Against Women and their Children. She has an interest in supervising Indigenous students to complete research higher degrees. Currently she leads a cohort study with women and children affected by trauma in Timor-Leste (International Journal of Epidemiology 2017; Nature Translational Psychiatry 2016); an NHMRC-funded Australian-based cohort study of 1335 refugee and Australian born women; and a Men’s parenting intervention being conducted in 5 North Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities (American Journal of Men’s Health, 2017). Susan has over 100 publications, and her total research income is over $4,800,000.

Abstract – Clinical Master Class – 18 September 2019

A warrior in the family: Intervening in cases where the perpetrator of intimate partner violence is also a refugee or torture survivor

Male survivors of torture may be at higher risk of enacting violence within the family. Family violence includes Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) targeting the spouse, violence and aggression toward children, and harmful exposure of children to IPV. There is conclusive evidence that torture has a major negative impact on the mental health and psychosocial functioning of survivors and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and related symptoms of anxiety and depression tend to be more common, severe, and chronic, amongst torture survivors. Associated excessive use of alcohol and other substances may further reduce frustration tolerance and thereby increases the risk of aggression towards intimate partners. This presentation explores the evidence for a multifaceted approach to intervention with men who may be torture and trauma survivors and perpetrators of IPV. Key areas for consideration will be: taking a ‘whole of family’ approach without risking the safety of the partner and children; considering patriarchy, cultural norms and contemporary Australian expectations and laws regarding IPV; the association between war, masculinity, and the perceived loss of male power during settlement; working on men’s emotions and disrupting refugee men’s increased attachment to gendered power; torture and the assault on men’s sense of integrity and dignity; the torture survivor’s loss of self-esteem; the risk of screening refugee men for IPV perpetration; and evidence for perpetrator interventions and their appropriateness for refugee men.

Abstract – Annual Research Symposium – 26 September 2018

Intimate partner violence amongst populations with a refugee background – prevalence, risk factors and interventions

Intimate partner violence (IPV) perpetrated against women is a serious global public health problem. Certain populations may be at greater risk of IPV and its deleterious mental health effects, women with a refugee background being an important and neglected group. The success of Australia’s resettlement program will be judged by the achievement of effective settlement for those admitted, indicated by levels of acculturation, participation and inclusion. A largely ignored issue in settlement policy is the problem of ongoing IPV and women’s mental health, and particularly, the need to view mental wellbeing through an intersectional lens. In this presentation A/professor Dr Susan Rees focuses on the risk and protective factors for IPV amongst women with a refugee background, and highlight the universal factors and those that are specific to the population. She draws on existing evidence, including from the first large cohort study worldwide of refugee and Australian-born women (1335 participants). The study, now is its third wave, enables them to examine the trajectory, psychosocial determinants and outcomes of intimate partner violence (IPV) for women from a refugee background. Baseline recruitment for the study was at Liverpool Hospital, Blacktown and Mt Druitt Hospital and Monash Medical. Dr Rees will discuss prevalence data on IPV, common mental disorders and PTSD, and the associated risk factors. She will consider interventions to assist women from refugee background to have the right live free from violence, and the best opportunities for successful settlement.

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