The sister of a Sydney dentist who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend has joined a campaign to see Australia's first domestic violence trauma recovery centre established in the Illawarra.
Preethi Reddy's body was found with multiple stab wounds inside a suitcase in the boot of her own car, in March 2019.
A day after the 32-year-old was reported missing, her ex-boyfriend Harshwardhan Narde died in a head-on collision with a truck near Tamworth in what police believe was a deliberate act.
Sister Nithya, and her family, have added their support - including a financial contribution - to the Illawarra Women's Health Centre to get the proposed Women's Trauma Recovery Centre off the ground.
Preethi who worked at a Blue Mountains dental practice at the time of her death, was previously employed at Dapto Smile Dental Centre.
"I lost my sister to intimate partner violence and it was obviously the most difficult thing my family and I have gone through - and it will never be okay," Nithya said.
"It's the main reason for me to advocate for this trauma recovery centre - it gives me a sense of meaning and purpose in life to try and prevent this happening to others.
It gives me a sense of meaning and purpose in life to try and prevent this happening to others.Nithya Reddy
"Also working in psychiatry, I know there's so many gaps in the system. And this centre being proposed for the Illawarra - a region where my sister loved working - isn't being proposed anywhere else in Australia.
"It's a centre with a plan for long-term support, follow-up and education - it's not a crisis centre. It aims to break the cycle of domestic abuse - whether that's physical abuse or coercive control."
Nithya doesn't believe Preethi's former boyfriend had been physically violent during their relationship, but said he had shown signs of coercive control.
She believes that his first act of physical violence after he met up with Preethi on the night of her murder was his "final act of control".
"There was no physical violence in their relationship - I knew my sister's stance on that - but he did display controlling tendencies," she said.
"There's so much misunderstanding around coercive control. And it's a very dangerous form of domestic abuse as it disables women - so my sister didn't think she was in danger around him.
"But the evidence around domestic violence shows that often physical violence is preceded by coercive control - and that then escalates into physical violence."
Nithya said domestic and family violence was a whole-of-society problem.
"My sister doesn't fit the perception of what people think of the 'typical' victim of domestic violence - she was educated, financially independent and had a good support network," she said.
"But we know that domestic violence affects every part of society. And while it is very gendered in society - the majority of perpetrators are men, and victims women - I acknowledge that men can be victims too.
"That's why we need services to break the cycle - services that are inter-generational so that mothers and children who have been victims can receive help.
"So that girls and boys who have seen domestic violence at home don't go on to become victims, or perpetrators, because it has been normalised."
Illawarra Women's Centre general manager Sally Stevenson said so far this year, six Australian women had died from violence, which was "just the tip of the violence iceberg".
In the Illawarra, the statistics are alarming. Just in the last three months, police from Wollongong and Lake Illawarra commands have been called to almost 2000 incidents of DV.
Of that figure, more than 580 were physical assaults; over 185 were breaches of apprehended violence orders and around 120 were for intimidation.
"There are thousands and thousands of woman suffering from PTSD due to domestic and family violence," Ms Stevenson said. "This is rarely acknowledged.
"They have lived or indeed continue to live in a life threatening environment - their home. Not one-off events or episodes, but constant and often prolonged exposure.
"And yet there is no dedicated and specialised service to support these women to recover. And lead full functional lives.
"Experts and women with lived experience all say - this trauma recovery centre is what is needed - a safe one-stop integrated service that provides wrap-around support for mental health, legal and financial issues.
The proposal for the centre has received support from many in the region's health, legal, community and business sector - and it's also received the backing of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists.
Ms Stevenson said while local MPs and state ministers had been very supportive of the concept, it needed an initial commitment of $60,000 to design the operational structure - in consultation with trauma, mental health and domestic violence experts, and importantly, women with lived experience.
It would then require $10 million over three years for its establishment and staffing. Ultimately, it could serve as a model for other locations in Australia.
South Coast Private psychiatrist Dr Karen Williams is among a group of doctors in support of the centre.
"When I came into mental health I was mainly dealing with anxiety, depression and schizophrenia, but over time recognised the vast majority of of female patients were traumatised as a result of domestic violence, physical or sexual abuse," she said. "And not much of that was being addressed at all.
"And that's what this centre promises to do - to deal with the underlying causes of these mental health conditions in the hope of breaking the cycle of violence."
Dr Williams said while there were a range of supports for defence personnel dealing with PTSD, there was little to no support for women dealing with trauma from domestic and family violence.
"In the normal health care system there isn't a trauma-informed approach to people who come in," she said. "But this will be a centre where everyone understands trauma, adding that extra layer of protection for women."
And she added that unlike the current "piecemeal approach" to domestic violence services, the centre would be a one-stop shop for women - offering not only counselling but assistance with other areas including housing, finances and legal affairs.
The Mercury is also supporting the campaign, and in partnership with the Illawarra Women's Health Centre will present an exhibition of family and domestic violence survivors, to be launched on April 2 at Wollongong Art Gallery.
Taken by Mercury photographer, and Walkey Award winner, Sylvia Liber, the photos highlight the long-term mental trauma of domestic and family violence, while showing the women's strength and resilience.
The Mercury will also share the personal stories of these survivors in a series of articles, Road to Recovery.
If you need support call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the NSW DV line on 1800 65 64 63.