Behaviour-change programs targeting perpetrators could reduce domestic violence, research finds

By Shannon Jenkins

Friday April 30, 2021

domestic violence
There are stark differences in the quality, intensity, and overall effectiveness of Australia’s domestic violence programs compared to the US. (Image:Adobe/Rawf8)

A new report has made the case for the use of long-term behaviour-change programs to reduce domestic violence in Australia and lighten the burden placed on victims.

There is a “stark difference” between the length, intensity, and effectiveness of Australian anti-domestic violence programs compared to those in the United States, according to report author and family lawyer Joplin Higgins.

She noted that Australian responses to domestic violence involve minimal engagement with perpetrators, which unfairly places the burden of solving the issue on victims and victims’ services.

“It’s like treating cancer with Panadol,” Higgins said.

“Programs in Australia run on average for 12-18 weeks compared with programs explored in the report that run for over 52 weeks. A few months is clearly not enough time to change, at times, a lifetime of violent and abusive behaviour.

“Responses to domestic violence overseas have prioritised targeting the perpetrators behaviour directly, investing in supporting offenders who are motivated to change.”

Statistics have shown that one woman dies due to domestic violence every week in Australia. One in three women have experienced physical violence — and one in five have experienced sexual violence — since the age of 15.


READ MORE: Government opens public consultation on plan to reduce violence against women and children


The research has explored men’s behaviour change programs (MBCP), including one year-long program that worked with whole families. Higgins found this particular engagement helped keep victims and children visible while perpetrators fulfilled their obligations.

A key finding of the report is that domestic violence is predominantly viewed as a criminal justice issue in Australia, despite it requiring a multi-agency response.

“MBCPs are significantly fragmented, varying from state to state and across service providers. Australia’s approach lacks coordination of programs as well as consistent messages that operate alongside domestic violence campaigns, early intervention and education in schools,” Higgins said.

The research found that Australian responses lack current research and evidence, and fail to correct the level of offending present. Higgins said more research was needed to determine the length and types of programs that are most effective for perpetrators.

“The ‘one size fits all’ approach and belief that all perpetrators are the same is not sufficient nor supported by current research,” she said.

The report has also called for increased funding for MCBP to ensure funding is not taken away from victims’ services.


READ MORE: Controversial family law inquiry tables report


 

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