The MHCC‘s report The right to be safe: ensuring sexual safety in acute mental health inpatient units was released in March 2018. This report examined people’s experiences of not being or feeling sexually safe in acute inpatient mental health services.The summary of responses to it from Victorian mental health services is now available here: The right to be safe sexual safety report - summary of service responses.
The responses from services show that some services have made meaningful and significant changes to their processes and culture, particularly after a serious sexual safety breach has occurred. However, these changes have not been achieved by all services and there are further actions many could take in terms of prevention and targeted intervention.
Under the Mental Health Act 2014 (Vic), the MHCC can identify, analyse and review quality and safety issues affecting mental health consumers and make recommendations for service improvement. The right to be safe report was produced under this statutory function, guided by an Advisory Group made up of people with lived experience, academics, and service providers.
The report includes:
an analysis of sexual safety complaints made to the MHCC as well as complaints made directly to services
- the findings of four MHCC investigations into complaints about sexual safety breaches
- a review of the literature, research and relevant policies, standards and initiatives from local and other jurisdictions
- consultations with key stakeholders, including people with lived experience, families and carers, service providers and staff, professional bodies, peak bodies, government and advocacy organisations.
In the report, the MHCC made recommendations to the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of the Chief Psychiatrist and mental health services about how to better ensure the sexual safety of people accessing inpatient mental health treatment.
Mental health services responses
Following the release of The right to be safe report, we asked Victorian mental health services to tell us how they are responding to the recommendations. We summarised their responses, noting key themes and areas for further improvement and discussed them with the Department, Chief Psychiatrist and services in our usual meetings. The summary of responses from mental health services is available here: The right to be safe sexual safety report - summary of service responses.
Some services (particularly those where a consumer had previously made a complaint to the MHCC about a serious sexual safety breach) gave thorough and detailed responses that showed that they have made significant improvements to their processes and culture. These changes help to ensure that people receiving inpatient treatment are, and feel, sexually safe. However, not all services reported this level of improvement.
Since The right to be safe report was released, the MHCC has seen an increase in the number of complaints both made and reported to the MHCC about sexual safety breaches. This suggests that people may be more prepared to raise their concerns about sexual safety, but may also suggest that services need to do more to fully implement the report’s recommendations.
When the MHCC receives complaints about sexual safety, we assess the service’s actions in the context of their responses to the report recommendations and work with it to improve its approach. It would appear that services are more likely to take decisive action to prevent sexual safety breaches once a serious breach has occurred within their service. We encourage all services to consider how they could further implement the prevention strategies and targeted interventions outlined in The right to be safe report.
MHCC’s continued focus on sexual safety
The MHCC contributes to and supports the department’s work in responding to the recommendations of The right to be safe through membership of the Chief Psychiatrist’s Sexual Safety Committee which includes consumer, carer and clinical leaders from across Victoria, as well as representation from Women’s Mental Health Network Victoria, Transgender Victoria, VMHILN and VAHI.
The MHCC continues to work with the department, Chief Psychiatrist and services to address the themes in the responses to the recommendations of the sexual safety project in our regular meetings and, as described above, in response to individual complaints.