Maria - Sexual safety in public mental health services

Complaint story about sexual safety in a Victorian public mental health service.

Please note: this complaint story involves sexual safety concerns.

What Maria told us

Maria was admitted to the intensive care area of a hospital. All the other mental health consumers there were men. Maria had a history of trauma and did not feel safe, which she let the service staff know. Maria was eventually moved to a women’s only corridor in an open unit. However, the corridor was unlocked and men often crossed it to reach communal living areas. Maria told the MHCC she felt sexually harassed by some men with the way they were looking at her and following her around. She was able to retreat to a women’s only lounge, but it was small, airless and uninviting.

Maria told us she had raised her concern that the environment was unsafe and untherapeutic with service staff, but they did not give her any support.

Maria’s rights 

Victoria’s Mental Health Act 2014 and its principles protect the rights of people who are receiving mental health treatment from a public mental health service. The principles most relevant to Maria’s complaint are:

b)  Persons receiving mental health services should be provided those services with the aim of bringing about the best possible therapeutic outcomes and promoting recovery and full participation in community life.

e) Persons receiving mental health services should have their rights, dignity and autonomy respected and promoted.

g) Persons receiving mental health services should have their individual needs (whether as to culture, language, communication, age, disability, religion, gender, sexuality or other matters) recognised and responded to.

What we did

We assessed Maria’s concerns against the MHCC’s The right to be safe project report on sexual safety in inpatient units. In particular, its recommendations about preventative strategies, trauma-informed responses to reported breaches, and safe infrastructure. We found that Maria’s complaint raised concerns about whether the service was providing gender-sensitive and trauma-informed care, and had recognised and responded to Maria’s rights, dignity, autonomy and individual needs.

With Maria’s consent, we gave her complaint to the service. We emphasised the importance of responding to people’s reports of sexual safety breaches, including working with them to make sure that strategies are effective. Both inpatient environments did not promote best possible therapeutic outcomes for Maria, respond to her individual needs, or uphold her right to be safe as required by the principles.


We worked with staff to develop a response to Maria’s complaint that respected her experiences and sought to prevent other consumers having similar experiences.

The service agreed to:

  • revise and update their practice guidance to staff about gender and sexual safety
  • provide more allied health staff for the unit to better support consumers
  • improve the amenity of the current women’s-only lounge
  • consider gender and safety in future infrastructure works.

In addition, the MHCC made a formal recommendation to the Department of Health that the service find more suitable women’s-only spaces.

Maria agreed to us closing the complaint on the basis that the service was making improvements to gender and sexual safety. We continue to meet with the service to make sure the changes are being implemented.

Reviewed 21 April 2021

Mental Health Complaints Commissioner (MHCC)

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