ANROWS Research

Perpetrator Intervention Projects: Shifting the burden from women and children to protect themselves to system and program interventions.

The main responses to domestic, family and sexual violence in Australia have traditionally centred on the protection and safety of the victim. However, this does not address the source of the risk – the perpetrator – so there is now an increased focus on perpetrator accountability and increasing opportunities for perpetrators to take responsibility for their violent behaviour in an effort to stem the problems of gendered violence. This proactive approach intended to prevent future violence recognises the need to engage with both victims and perpetrators of family violence, while also increasing the emphasis on perpetrator accountability for his actions.

In light of this approach Curtin University has been funded, by Australian National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS), to undertake two projects to analyse and review the current system and look for ways to strengthen strategies of perpetrator accountability and intervention.

The projects are led by Professor Donna Chung, Curtin University, with the research expertise of Mr Damian Green, Professor Reinie Cordier, Ms Elena Campbell, Professor Jan Breckenridge, Dr Michael Salter, Professor Siobhan Austin, Professor Patrick O’Leary and Mr Rodney Vlais.

The projects will examine the service system across the continuum from primary prevention through to tertiary intervention to look at areas of system strength and further development. As part of this process, there will also be an in-depth exploration of the current state of perpetrator programs and relevant legislation in Western Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland in order to better understand and further enhance the response systems.

These two projects aim to consolidate current Australian evidence on perpetrator interventions and determine the future characteristics for effective perpetrator intervention across the system.

To address these multiple areas, there are a number of strands to the project:

  1. A comprehensive analysis of systems for perpetrator intervention, including victim engagement.
  2. A meta-evaluation of where perpetrator interventions are, and should be, situated within the overall response to violence against women and their children.
  3. Mapping exercises that will build on the work of ANROWS State of Knowledge Report Part 2, and present how perpetrator interventions are configured within current responses to stopping violence against women and their children. The initial stages of the project will create a physical ‘blueprint’ of what exists. The mapping exercise will include the examination of specialist Domestic Family Violence and Sexual Violence services, mainstream agencies that have a major role (e.g. police, courts, corrections homelessness services, child protection) and mainstream services that have association with perpetrator interventions (such as schools, mental health and drug and alcohol services)
  4. The research team will look at the integrated ways programs and systems respond to perpetrators and ways in which perpetrator interventions for family and domestic violence and sexual violence could be integrated from primary to tertiary prevention. This will identify points in the service system where separate interventions are required, or where perpetrator interventions fit across a continuum.
  5. In order to understand the context in which the responses to perpetrators operate, the project will include an examination of the current legislation from both Commonwealth and State jurisdictions. Legislation and policy are critical as they set the scene for what is defined as important in responding to violence against women and children. Currently, definitions and statutory legislation used in various domestic and family violence statutes across Australian jurisdictions vary. There is confusion as to what behaviour constitutes or gives rise to protection orders. Acts of family violence including misdemeanours and the techniques perpetrators use, such as unreasonably denying necessary financial support in circumstances of financial dependency rarely fit the categorisation worthy of a protection order being granted.

The second project endeavours to provide evidence about the refinement of the system of perpetrator interventions by documenting legislation, men’s behaviour change programs, and individual cases of differing needs that align to one successful overarching System of Perpetrator Interventions. The team will identify factors that increase engagement in men’s behaviour change programs for perpetrators of domestic and family violence, and sexual violence who are associated with individuals, programs, or systems such as justice or child protection.

Some of the concerns raised that we intend to address further through the research include:

  • There are some commonalities in domestic violence offending, that there is not a singular type of individual who commits these acts, so one type of men’s behaviour change treatment program does not fit for all offenders. However, the reality of resources is such that we cannot merely just have multiple programs of varying kinds running all over Australia.
  • At the present time, there is no uniform agency data collection and management framework to collect information about how many men enter programs, the characteristics of participants such age and education, who completes programs, whether and how programs make a difference. The research around the effectiveness of men’s behaviour change programs is hampered by numerous methodological issues, however, there are ways forward to begin examining factors that predict domestic violence recidivism and the safety of women and children.

The second phase of the project will examine the evidence which can be used to improve the engagement and retention of domestic and sexual violence perpetrators in Australia. The team will conduct a number of case studies focusing on responses to sexual violence and abuse focused on younger people, as well as various pathways, case studies will be used to track movement through various systems of perpetrator intervention.

The final component of the project is to develop and test a framework for standard data collection and management for the domestic violence perpetrator response in Australia. It is proposed that the development of an up to date system of evidence gathering will assist policy makers and practitioners to grow the evidence base around the strengths and weaknesses of the system over the longer term.

You may be wondering why all of this examination, meta-analysis, and mapping are necessary. Well, perpetrator programs and engagement with perpetrators is key focus in the effort to eliminate violence towards women and children in Australia. Approaching the issue of family and domestic violence from this perspective, which is different to previous endeavours by shifting the focus to an examination of the perpetrator response, will lead to various improvements in the current response to family violence.  Tackling the issue from this perspective allows for a better understanding of the needs and issues in an integrated service system. The burden is shifted from the women and children to protect themselves, to a system and programs that refocus the burden of responsibility back to those who are perpetrating violence within their family.

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