As discussed in the previous chapter, the role of primary prevention is to address the drivers of family, domestic and sexual violence (FDSV). However, acknowledging the reality that these forms of violence do occur, there is also an important role for more direct approaches to prevent violence from occurring or escalating.
These approaches can include early intervention—which involves identifying and supporting people at a higher risk of either perpetrating or experiencing violence—as well as working with perpetrators to assist them to change their behaviour and end their use of violence.
This chapter examines the role of early intervention and perpetrator intervention programs, and in particular perpetrator behaviour change programs, which were a focus in evidence to the inquiry.
Throughout the inquiry, stakeholders stressed the importance of early intervention, sometimes also referred to as ‘secondary prevention’. Early intervention aims to ‘change the trajectory’ for individuals who are at higher than average risk of either perpetrating or experiencing violence. This is distinct from primary prevention, which aims to address the drivers of FDSV.
As noted above, evidence in relation to primary prevention is discussed in Chapter 6 of this report.
The Fourth Action Plan describes early intervention as being ‘key in recognising and responding to early warning signs’ of FDSV in order to:
stop the escalation of violence against women and children;
protect victims from immediate harm; and
prevent violence from escalating further.
Similarly, No to Violence, Australia’s largest peak body for organisations that work with perpetrators, submitted:
Early intervention is focused at preventing people from needing crisis and tertiary responses due to their experiences of violence, and should be an immediate focus for preventing family violence (and the repeat offences of the men who use violence).
No to Violence argued that the return on investment from an increased focus on early intervention ‘has the potential to significantly reduce trauma, and reduce more expensive tertiary responses such as crisis services, policy and justice responses’.
The Committee heard about a broad range of early intervention initiatives, including:
the Tasmanian Government’s Step Up program for young people aged 12 to 17 years, which assists them to understand the consequences of violent behaviour; strengthens family and intimate relationships; and provides referrals to other specialist services;
the New South Wales Aboriginal Housing Office’s Services Our Way program, which works with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and families experiencing vulnerability to prevent or resolve issues before crisis point; and
the ACT Government’s Domestic and Family Violence Training Strategy, which involves the delivery of family and domestic violence training to all 21,000 ACT Government staff to recognise and respond to people experiencing violence.
Evidence on early intervention
Evidence to the inquiry highlighted opportunities for effective early intervention at pivotal transition points in a person’s life when FDSV is more likely to emerge or escalate. These points include during pregnancy and postpartum; at the birth of a first child; at times of particular stress in a relationship, including during and after relationship breakdown and at times of financial stress; and during natural disasters.
Opportunities for early intervention in early childhood and adolescence and young adulthood, when views about relationships are forming, were also identified.
The Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre highlighted the need for early interventions to mitigate the risk of adverse social, emotional and behavioural outcomes for children and adolescents exposed to FDSV. However, it noted that ‘most interventions remain parent- rather than child‑centred’ and fail to recognise the importance of ‘ongoing, child-centred recovery needs’.
It recommended consideration be given to long-term investment in early intervention and primary prevention of the inter-generational transmission of FDSV:
While cost-benefit analyses are limited, research suggests that early intervention and primary prevention programs directed at strengthening parenting, families at risk and community support for vulnerable families show promising results in reducing the risk of intergenerational transmission of DFV and its related economic impact…
Bravehearts, a child protection organisation, argued there is a need for additional resourcing for services for young people who exhibit harmful behaviours. As an example, it referred to its Turning Corners program, which provides individual counselling, family counselling, and other interventions for children aged 12 to 17 years who have engaged, or are at risk of engaging, in harmful sexual behaviour.
Referring to 2015 research on FDSV during pregnancy, the Australian Institute of Family Studies explained that women are at greater risk of experiencing violence from an intimate partner during pregnancy and postpartum, but that there are several promising opportunities for early intervention during this period:
These interventions included universal screening for DFV in health and social support service settings, community education programs and counselling interventions. It was observed that pregnancy and early parenthood are opportune times for early intervention as women are more likely to have contact with health and other professionals.
The Municipal Association of Victoria highlighted that maternal and child health (MCH) services can assist in the early identification of FDSV:
MCH follow up on every birth notification which means they can potentially connect with every family in their local government area (assuming the birth is registered); which provides the opportunity for women with young children to disclose experiences of domestic and family violence to a trusted health professional.
It explained that in some local councils MCH services were supported by a dedicated family violence specialist officer. Further evidence on the role of local governments is discussed in Chapter 3 of this report.
Mrs Janet Michelmore AO from Jean Hailes for Women’s Health elaborated on the role MCH nurses can have in identifying FDSV:
They see women at a very vulnerable time, often where they may well be more likely to disclose this. They are a wonderful opportunity for us all to support women in a much more positive way and to identify a problem perhaps a little bit earlier than other professions might.
However, Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand submitted that the existing MCH systems need to be strengthened to better support early identification and intervention, through workforce training and capacity to enable additional visits for at-risk families.
Drummond Street Services said that investment in universal prevention and early intervention responses during pregnancy and the transition to parenthood is critical. It referred to its Ready Steady Family program, which seeks to reduce conflict and improve family functioning during this period, working in partnership with health services to undertake ongoing screening and risk assessment.
Similarly, Ms Jacqui Watt, Chief Executive Officer of No to Violence, referred to the Baby Makes 3 project run by VicHealth, which is designed to promote equal and respectful relationships between men and women during the transition to parenthood. Ms Watt suggested that a ‘whole-of-service-system response’ and a ‘whole-of-community response’ is required to support people at times of additional stress.
Ms Lizette Twisleton, also from No to Violence, said more work was needed to address a lack of emotional literacy in men:
So in those times that you're talking about, those times where there's additional stresses in the family, we've seen men becoming reactive and unable to process their own emotions and then express them. To me, that links very strongly to the primary prevention work, the early intervention work… where we're in there supporting right before this starts.
Further to this, the Committee also heard about opportunities for health professionals more broadly to support women to disclose instances of FDSV. For example, Mrs Michelmore explained:
There are various times in a woman's life when she accesses health services. One is, perhaps, to begin contraception. That is an opportunity. A pregnancy is another opportunity. Menopause symptoms are another opportunity. What we need to do is educate and support health practitioners to ask the next question. It may not be the direct question at that time, but you might bring them back for a second consultation.
Marie Stopes Australia also submitted that sexual and reproductive healthcare is a point of early intervention.
Ms Nicki Russell from Jean Hailes for Women’s Health told the Committee that while there were examples of good practice in training clinicians to safely facilitate disclosure, this was not consistent:
There's often still a perception that this is not a general practice issue, that it's not something that needs to be brought up or taught or done—that it's a social issue, something for the home and not a health issue. I think there's some work to be done to make the good work that's happening in small places more broadly known and to change the perception amongst clinicians themselves around where this issue lies.
Marie Stopes Australia suggested that general practitioners (GPs) and other health professionals are often well-placed to identify instances of violence and coercion, and have ‘active opportunities to discuss mental health and wellbeing, self-harm and suicidality, use of alcohol and other drugs, and broader behavioural patterns’. However, it also noted that their capacity to respond may be limited:
For example in rural and remote areas where there are limited clinics available, family or kinship members may all access the same clinician, provide interpreting or translating for each other, and/or accompany each other to appointments.
It argued that more support should be provided to clinics to provide privacy and safety planning for victim-survivors, and risk management for perpetrators. It also suggested training for all staff within primary health centres and increased access to screening tools.
As an example, the Committee was made aware of the Recognise, Respond, Refer program (RRR program), which was developed by the Brisbane South Primary Health Network (PHN) in partnership with the Australian Centre of Social Innovation. The RRR program relies upon the expertise of GPs and other primary health care professionals to identify the early signs of FDSV, and connects GPs and their patients to FDSV referral networks. The RRR program includes whole-of-organisation training provided by FDSV specialists free of charge to general practices in the PHN region.
Under the Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan, the Australian Government is providing $7.5 million to expand the existing RRR program and trial new programs at five additional PHNs. The Government is also planning an independent evaluation of the RRR program.
Embolden suggested that workers in the broader social services sector—including health workers, but also police, social workers, and educators—may be in a position to identify sexual and gender-based violence, and called for:
training on power and control issues;
information on their role on early intervention responses; and
clear and appropriate referral pathways.
It called on local, state, and federal governments to demonstrate a leadership role in this regard by providing training to their own staff.
Family and relationship services
The Committee heard about the role of family and relationship services in early intervention from various witnesses including Family and Relationship Services Australia (FRSA), whose members include 135 organisations directly delivering services such as family law services, family and relationship counselling, and parenting programs.
Mrs Jacqueline Brady, Executive Director of FRSA, told the Committee that violence in relationships can coincide with family and relationship conflict and breakdown, ‘often very close to the actual breakdown of the relationship, and not just before but after as well’.
In its submission, FRSA explained the role that family and relationship services have in identifying cases of family:
Often people affected by family and domestic violence who access family and relationship services initially present with an issue other than family and domestic violence. It is often through the intake screening and assessment processes that family and domestic violence is picked up.
Mrs Brady elaborated on this at a public hearing:
… people are coming into our service experiencing family violence. That provides us with a unique opportunity to work with them 'upstream', as we refer to it, before they get to the really pointy end and might be requiring the more tertiary-end service provision. …we're able to work with people earlier in their experience of family violence, or even before they themselves have identified family violence.
FRSA submitted that staff in the family and relationship services sector are trained to screen for early indicators of FDSV. However, it said the role that family and relationship services play in prevention and early intervention is ‘not always recognised in the broader public policy context’ and has not been fully realised.
Mrs Brady said that the family and relationship services sector had a number of strengths that supported it having a stronger role in early intervention:
These include well-developed expertise and resources for working with a range of families; national coverage and extensive community links; developing expertise in the delivery and evaluation of evidence based family programs and evidence-informed practices; engagement with families across key transitions in the family life course; and non-stigmatised services relative to tertiary services, such as child protection and correction.
In a supplementary submission, FRSA reiterated that there is potential for interventions to occur earlier ‘before men engage with the criminal and justice systems’ and suggested that family and relationship services are one ‘touchpoint’ for such interventions.
Interrelate submitted that Family and Relationship Centres (FRCs) are ‘ideally placed to identify, respond to and assess safety and risk’ in relation to family violence and could be harnessed to provide early intervention programs. FRCs provide information, support and referral services to families, as well as family dispute resolution and access to legal assistance for separating or separated families.
Early intervention in diverse communities
A number of submitters highlighted the importance of early intervention measures in diverse communities.
The Australian Women Against Violence Alliance recommended increased funding for ‘community-led intersectional and culturally-sensitive prevention and early intervention initiatives in diverse communities’, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, LGBTQI, culturally and linguistically diverse, migrant, and refugee communities, and at risk cohorts including women with disability, women working in the sex industry, older women, and young women.
Djirra and the Queensland Indigenous Family Violence Legal Service both stressed the importance of culturally safe approaches that address Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children’s unique needs, perspectives, and barriers to receiving assistance. Both organisations gave examples of their early intervention and prevention programs, and called for additional funding for these programs to be expanded.
The Aboriginal Family Legal Service Southern Queensland highlighted that in rural, regional, and remote communities, the financial cost involved in travelling to attend FDSV services presented a barrier to accessing support, particularly at an early intervention stage.
Mission Australia explained that women who are newly arrived to Australia may have limited understanding of relevant laws and may be unfamiliar with services available to them, including specialist FDSV services and homelessness services:
Lack of early intervention is therefore common among this group, leading to their overrepresentation among those needing crisis services. Therefore, proactive measures must be adopted to ensure that these women are able to access early intervention and other supports.
Similarly, Muslim Women Australia recommended that specialist services be supported to develop community-led prevention and early intervention programs for men from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
The New South Wales Government explained that one of its focus areas was building capacity for early intervention in specific target communities:
An individual’s experience of violence must be considered in the context of different forms of systemic, social, political and economic disadvantage and discrimination. Characteristics including race, religion, ethnicity, sexuality and gender identity, age and disability do not cause violence, however, taking a person’s experience of these into account can improve the design and delivery of DFV responses.
Evidence on family violence in diverse communities is discussed in detail in Chapter 5 of this report, and evidence on need for interventions tailored to the specific needs and circumstances of perpetrators is discussed later in this chapter.
Men’s referral service
The Committee heard from No to Violence about its Men’s Referral Service, which is a telephone counselling, information, and referral service for men using or at risk of using violent or controlling behaviour, and their friends and family.
No to Violence explained in its submission that many of the men it works with recognise there is an issue, but are not sure where to find help. This is supported by the results of a survey commissioned by the organisation, which found that a majority of men would not know where to go to get support to address their use of violence.
The Men’s Referral Service was established in 1993 and, until 2020, only operated in Victoria, New South Wales, and Tasmania. Other telephone intake services for men who use violence operate in Queensland and Western Australia, run by DVConnect and the Western Australian Government respectively.
In 2020, No to Violence received funding from the Australian and South Australian Governments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to provide a national service.
No to Violence noted that the current arrangements during COVID‑19 provided an opportunity to develop a more coordinated intake service for men seeking support. It recommended the establishment of a nationally coordinated telephone and online counselling and referral service, encompassing all jurisdictions. It said this would be a contrasting service to 1800RESPECT, focused on the perpetrator rather than on people experiencing violence and abuse.
Ms Watt from No to Violence elaborated on this recommendation at a public hearing:
First and foremost, we would like to see a national men's referral service. We're very grateful to the Commonwealth for funding us to take our phone service into other states and territories as part of the COVID response. That is starting to bear fruit …but there is much more work to be done for men to understand that (a) there is a service for them and (b) they can choose to do something different and they can take up offers of support and help. We feel that would be a really important national intake point. …We believe everything starts with a conversation. The journey of change is going to be a long, bumpy one, but it starts with a conversation. I think men knowing that there's a service there for them could be an important circuit breaker and de‑escalation point.
The Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre recommended that the Australian Government provide continuing funding for the Men’s Referral Service (along with MensLine, a more general counselling service) to cater for the increased demand for services associated with the COVID‑19 pandemic.
Evidence to the inquiry discussed the importance of effective risk assessment and risk management, including in relation to early intervention.
The Committee heard that some states and territories have developed their own common risk assessment frameworks. For example, a number of submitters referred to Victoria’s Family Violence Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management Framework (MARAM), introduced in 2007 following a recommendation of the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence to review and redevelop the previous framework.
In its submission, the Victorian Government explained that MARAM:
…defines clear roles and responsibilities, information sharing authorisations, shared approaches and promotes consistent responses across the system, and builds family violence literacy and capability through all aspects of service delivery. MARAM is designed with an intersectional lens to recognise and respond appropriately to risk for Aboriginal people, people from diverse communities and at-risk age groups (including children, young and older people).
Several submitters and witnesses noted improvements in risk assessment and information sharing since the introduction of MARAM. It was also noted that MARAM might assist local councils to improve their responses to family violence and was being used in training for bushfire recovery support workers.
The ACT Government explained that it is ‘developing a draft Common Risk Assessment and Management Framework to assist all ACT services to identify DFV risk, intervene earlier and improve access to support and information’:
The intended outcome of this work is to assist all ACT services to consistently and effectively identify DFV risk with the aim of earlier intervention and improved access to support and information.
Similarly, representatives from the Northern Territory Government explained that they were in the process of implementing a risk assessment and management framework:
With that is a common risk assessment tool, so that there can be a consistent approach to screening and assessment for all agencies, but also we get a consistent approach and understanding of what domestic and family violence is and what the risks are. We're currently in the process of implementing that. We're running orientation sessions not only across government and within our own agency but also for the domestic and family violence sector.
In this Committee’s inquiry in 2017 into the family law system, the Committee recommended the development of a national family violence risk assessment tool. In its response to the inquiry report, the Australian Government noted this recommendation.
In its submission, the Department of Social Services explained that the Australian Government had agreed to develop national principles for risk assessment rather than a national risk assessment tool.
These principles—the National Risk Assessment Principles for Domestic and Family Violence—were developed by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) and completed in 2018. The Family Violence Working Group of the Council of Attorneys-General subsequently developed supplementary guidance to assist policy makers to translate the principles into practice within the family law, family violence, and child protection systems.
However, despite these initiatives, much of the evidence to this inquiry suggested there is a need for further work to ensure a more consistent national approach to risk assessment.
In its submission, ANROWS nominated developing and implementing common risk assessments and agreements to manage risk between jurisdictions as an area for improvement:
…most jurisdictions in Australia have undertaken reforms to ensure that integrated approaches are implemented in responding to high risk of domestic and family violence (DFV). For example, Victoria has implemented the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management (MARAM) framework, while the Northern Territory uses the Family Safety Framework. Perpetrators and victims/survivors, however, often move between jurisdictions in Australia. By developing and implementing common risk assessments and agreements regarding risk management in all jurisdictions (Humphreys & Healey, 2017) we would improve safety for all Australian women and their children.
The Australian Women Against Violence Alliance recommended that the Australian Government establish ‘a standard screening, risk assessment and referral process nationally, to ensure public health, social and community services are trained to identify key safety risks early for people experiencing violence in their relationships, and able to refer them to the services that can help them achieve safety and recover’.
Similarly, Women’s Safety NSW recommended a ‘nationally consistent identification and risk assessment screening process to determine the existence and/or risk of family violence and abuse, and systematic referral to specialist domestic and family violence services’.
Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand said that it was ‘not confident that effective risk assessments and sharing of risk information are being done’ and recommended immediate action on a nationally consistent approach to risk assessment.
Sacred Heart Mission submitted that the Australian Government should support states and territories to 'work collectively to adopt the MARAM Framework and ensure that assessment of risk for family violence is consistent and inclusive nationwide’.
Other submitters highlighted particular areas to be included in a common approach to risk assessment.
For example, the ACT Human Rights Commission explained that risk assessment tools in different jurisdictions and sectors differ in their approach to children and young people. It recommended that ‘common risk assessment tools developed for use across services such as health, housing, police, and specialist services include all children and young people in a family, and not only primary adult clients/respondents’ and nominated MARAM as an example of best practice in Australia.
The Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre recommended that common risk assessment and management frameworks reflect a shared understanding of coercive control. Coercive control discussed in further detail in Chapter 4 of this report.
Perpetrator intervention programs
This section of the chapter considers evidence in relation to perpetrator intervention programs, with a particular focus on perpetrator behaviour change programs (PBCPs).
The Committee notes that PBCPs are also referred to as men’s behaviour change programs (MBCPs) in much of the evidence, reflecting a historical focus on male perpetrators. The Committee has however chosen to use the term PBCP where possible to acknowledge the need for these programs to cater to a broader range of perpetrators, as is discussed later in this section.
In its submission to the inquiry, No to Violence, Australia’s largest peak body for organisations that work with perpetrators, explained the rationale for working with perpetrators:
Much of the discourse exploring perpetrator accountability has focused on the justice response to perpetrators of family violence. Justice responses have long been assumed to produce both individual and general deterrence, however, it is increasingly clear that justice responses alone do not deter family violence.
While justice responses play an important part of defining what is and is not acceptable across our society and managing risk, it is essential to work much more actively with the men who use violence and abuse to prevent it happening again.
Without addressing the perpetrator’s use of family violence, they will likely do it again. Without addressing the perpetrators use of family violence, we are not addressing the fundamental causes of family violence.
A similar point is made in the National Plan:
Focusing just on punishing perpetrators will not bring about behaviour change. Perpetrators need assistance to end their violence.
Ms Watt from No to Violence said it was her belief that men who use violence can change:
Our fundamental belief is that children are not born violent. Children do not need to turn into violent men. This is a learnt behaviour. … We fundamentally believe that men who use violence can change.
While the Committee heard that perpetrator intervention programs can include a broad range of responses, much of the evidence to the inquiry related to PBCPs.
The primary aim of PBCPs is to achieve a change in a perpetrators’ violent behaviour, but other aims can include to enhance victim-survivor safety and monitor perpetrators’ use of violence and associated risks.
A range of PBCPs are delivered in Australia, primarily funded by state and territory governments, run in both community settings and correctional institutions. A representative of the Department of Social Services advised that the Australian Government funded ‘a number of perpetrator packages that are aimed at helping men and young boys to change their behaviour and build their capacity to deal with problems’, which concluded in 2018‑19 and are currently under evaluation.
PBCPs are often used in conjunction with protection orders and other criminal justice responses. A selection of PBCPs are highlighted in the next section.
Participation in PBCPs may be voluntary or mandated. The Committee heard that approximately 80 per cent of men who attend a PBCP have been court-mandated (or referred via a police intervention), and 20 per cent voluntarily attend.
In a research paper on MBCPs, ANROWS explained that:
Programs typically run over a period of 3 to 6 months, and usually comprise initial assessment, followed by weekly group sessions for men. Some program providers have the capacity to offer supplementary individual sessions and case management when required. Programs also usually entail partner support for women, comprising such elements as information, support, referral, safety planning, counselling and/or case management.
However, the paper also noted that while MBCPs have existed in Australia for more than 30 years, they remain contentious:
Debates are ongoing about how MBCPs should be delivered, and the extent to which they are effective in improving the safety and freedom of victims/survivors.
Similarly, the Youth Affairs Council of South Australia (YACSA) explained:
Perpetrator intervention programs have historically been controversial, with arguments that these programs divert resources from victim’s services, act to reduce criminal justice system accountability and that the programs are expensive and haven’t been shown to be effective in reducing perpetrator attitudes or violence.
Ms Leonie McGuire, a former manager of the Taree Women's and Children's Refuge speaking to the Committee in a private capacity, expressed her concern about the amount of resources allocated to MBCPs:
Substantial resources are allocated to programs to change violent male behaviour, but not a single one documents long-term changes. They only document how many men complete a program. While we wait for men to change their behaviour, women and children die.
She suggested that that these resources should be diverted to education programs.
Stakeholders’ views on PBCPs and perpetrator intervention programs more broadly are discussed in further detail later in this chapter.
Examples of perpetrator intervention programs
In evidence to the inquiry, the Committee heard about a range of perpetrator intervention programs. This section briefly highlights four programs.
Breathing Space is an intensive residential-based PBCP run by Communicare, a not-for-profit organisation based in Western Australia. The program has operated since 2003, with a second site opening in 2019, and was the first program of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. The program is funded by the Western Australian government.
The program runs for six-months and involves moving the perpetrator out of the home (or from incarceration on parole), which enables other family members to stay in the home and remain connected with their support networks, including community services and schools.
Following an assessment process, participants are inducted to the site and are unable to leave unaccompanied for the first two weeks. The program comprises two phases:
a 3-4 month intensive phase, which involves participants attending two compulsory group sessions each weekday; and
a 2-3 month transition phase, which supports participants to transition into the wider community.
More than 1,000 men have participated in the program with a completion rate of one in three. The cost of the program is $12,000 per participant, and the current waiting time for a place in the program is 12 weeks.
Mr Brad Chilcott from White Ribbon Australia, which is affiliated with Communicare, explained the program was an opportunity for participants to reflect on their behaviour:
We find that men who attend Breathing Space are generally ashamed of their behaviour, especially the impact it has on the children. They enter the program without a full understanding of that impact but as they go through the six months and engage with the program it becomes clearer.
Communicare is working with Curtin University on an evaluation of the program due to be released in 2021.
Change Em Ways
Change Em Ways is a PBCP run by Mens Outreach Service Aboriginal Corporation (MOSAC), an Aboriginal organisation based in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The program commenced in 2018 and is funded by the Australian Government until 2022. MOSAC noted that the program was developed after it had been identified that ‘there were no recurrently resourced or available services targeted at men who use violence, but only short-term trials’.
The program is delivered three times each year for a group of approximately 15-20 men. The program involves:
a process of referral and assessment, including the development of safety plans for women, children, and men;
a three-day On-Country camp prior to commencement;
an eight-week intensive workshop including cultural and healing activities and in-classroom work; and
five months of outreach support, including connecting men with employment, counselling, and rehabilitation services.
Approximately 140 men have had some contact with the program and more than 40 men have completed the program.
Speaking to the Committee at a public hearing, representatives of MOSAC emphasised that the program has a strong cultural focus:
We go out on things like cultural camp. We take the men back to country and we get them immersed in activities around social and emotional wellbeing. Throughout the program, we also do regular cultural days—activities, get the men talking in a safe space. It's quite unique in the way that it runs. … It has a lot of respect in the community for those reasons, in particular because we have a team that is made up of Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff, staff with lived experience and staff that are very well connected in the community.
While the program is based in Broome, MOSAC is working to bring the program to other sites across the Kimberley. An external evaluation of the program is also ongoing.
Proud Partners was a pilot group-based behaviour change program for LGBTQI people run in 2019 by ACON, a health organisation for people of diverse sexualities and genders based in New South Wales. Proud Partners was the first program of its kind in New South Wales
The program ran for ten weeks and addressed topics including ‘safety, emotional regulation, values, boundaries, communication skills, healthy and harmful behaviours, sex and consent and maintaining change’.
The program relied on self-referrals, with 49 people expressing interest and 13 people commencing the program.
In its submission, ACON explained that the program ‘demonstrated exceptional engagement, retention rates, outcomes, and satisfaction amongst participants’:
… most of the participants who completed Proud Partners had an increased capacity to understand that they are responsible for their behaviour in relationships, and that abuse is never justified.
ACON plans to run the program again in 2020-21.
Maranguka Justice Reinvestment Project
The Committee heard evidence from Ms Sarah Hopkins, Chair of Just Reinvest NSW, about the Maranguka Justice Reinvestment Project, which was established in the town of Bourke in north-west New South Wales in 2013. As Ms Hopkins explained, the program started as a result of the community seeking to address the causes of young people entering the criminal justice system. At that time, Bourke had the highest rate of domestic violence offences in the state.
The project follows the justice reinvestment methodology, which involves shifting resources out of the criminal justice system and the prison system into crime prevention and early intervention in communities. Ms Hopkins identified three important aspects of the approach:
it uses data to identify which communities are costing the most in terms of incarceration, the root causes of the offending behaviour, and possible solutions;
it is place-based or community-led; and
it aims to have fiscal sustainability, as investment in crime prevention and early intervention is funded from savings achieved through a reduction in the prison population.
In 2018, KPMG evaluated the project, comparing outcomes in 2017 to the previous year. It found:
a 23 per cent reduction in police recorded incidence of domestic violence and comparable drops in rates of reoffending;
a 31 per cent increase in year 12 retention rates and a 38 per cent reduction in charges across the top five juvenile offence categories; and
a 14 per cent reduction in bail breaches and a 42 per cent reduction in days spent in custody.
KPMG also estimated that the program resulted in a gross economic impact of $3.1 million, approximately five times greater than its operational costs.
Ms Hopkins stressed that while the results were ‘fantastic’ and better than in comparable communities, it was important for them to be sustained over time:
…it is really important to see that there's no magic bullet here, that this involves ongoing complex work and ongoing recognition that the community needs to lead these sorts of initiatives…
Standards for perpetrator intervention programs
The Committee received some evidence on standards relevant to perpetrator intervention programs.
The National Outcome Standards for Perpetrator Interventions (NOSPI) are a set of outcomes-focused standards, designed to ensure perpetrator interventions in Australia are effective. The NOSPI were endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments in December 2015.
The six ‘headline standards’ in the NOSPI are:
women and their children’s safety is the core priority of all perpetrator interventions;
perpetrators get the right interventions at the right time;
perpetrators face justice and legal consequences when they commit violence;
perpetrators participate in programmes and services that enable them to change their violent behaviours and attitudes;
perpetrator interventions are driven by credible evidence to continuously improve; and
people working in perpetrator intervention systems are skilled in responding to the dynamics and impacts of domestic, family and sexual violence.
Under the Third Action Plan 2016-19, the Australian Government provided $4 million to support states and territories to implement the NOSPI.
A baseline report on the NOSPI based on 2015-16 data was published in 2016, reporting on 6 out of 27 indicators. The report states the government’s intention that the NOSPI will be reported against nationally and annually. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare advised it is working to produce a report for the 2019‑20 reporting period.
However, the Tasmanian Government highlighted issues with ‘complexity of data collection across jurisdictions with differing definitions, legal responses, and data sources’, which it said restricted annual reporting under the NOSPI.
An ANROWS research paper also highlighted the challenge involved in collecting national data under the NOSPI, recommending support for the full implementation of the standards to enable this to occur, and the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance called for resourcing and implementation of the NOSPI to be given a high priority.
Women’s Safety NSW submitted that, while the NOSPI is supported in the FDSV sector, it has been criticised for ‘not being instructive and operationalised’.
In its submission, ANROWS noted that the standards do not specifically address working with people from refugee backgrounds. The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education and the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research recommended that national standards for perpetrator interventions include strategies to address alcohol misuse.
In addition to the NOSPI, minimum standards and guidelines for perpetrator intervention programs and MBCPs specifically have been developed at the state and territory level. For example, in 2017 the New South Wales Government introduced the NSW Practice Standards for Men’s Domestic Violence Behaviour Change Programs, which articulate the government’s expectations of MBCP providers and give guidance to ensure that programs are safe and effective. The standards apply to all group-based MBCPs in New South Wales and are designed to be consistent with the NOSPI. However, there are no national standards specifically for behaviour change programs.
The Committee also heard about local initiatives to adapt or develop standards for PBCPs. For example, MOSAC explained that its Change Em Ways program was guided by the NOSPI as well as the West Australian Practice Standards for Perpetrator Intervention. However, it noted that in some cases the standards were not appropriate for the local context and required modification in how they were applied.
Another example discussed with the Committee was the Central Australian Minimum Standards (CAMS) for MBCPs, which were developed in 2020 by the Tangentyere Council Aboriginal Corporation (TCAC), an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation that delivers services in Alice Springs, its Town Camps, and throughout Central Australia.
In its submission, TCAC explained the CAMS were developed acknowledging the context behind the high rates of FDSV in the Northern Territory:
Contextual factors such as extreme remoteness, a vast geographical space with a small population, lack of access to goods and services, lack of housing and infrastructure, high rates of poverty and inequality, a culturally and linguistically rich context, and unreliable funding streams for services mean that there are multiple cumulative risk factors that make women in the Territory particularly vulnerable to experiencing violence.
Men in Central Australia also face additional barriers and multiple disadvantages which impact their lives and affect their engagement with programs and services.
The CAMS articulate expectations of MBCPs operating in Central Australia through six headline standards, and provide guidance on the practice of the standards through indicator standards. Good practice and unacceptable practice are also outlined for each of the headline standards. TCAC explained that the language the CAMS uses reflects a ‘strengths-based and holistic approach’ to preventing violence. For example:
The CAMS choses [sic] to use the language ‘men who have used violence’ and ‘women’ or ‘female partner’ rather than ‘perpetrators’ or ‘victims’ or ‘survivors’ of violence, to acknowledge their whole person and capacity to live a life free from violence and have an identity apart from violence.
The CAMS were developed in consultation with a stakeholders including women’s safety services, women’s legal services, corrections, child protection services, Aboriginal women’s and men’s groups, and MBCP participants and staff.
Representatives of the Northern Territory Government noted the importance of minimum standards for PBCPs and told the Committee they hoped the CAMS could be rolled out across the Territory.
Views on perpetrator intervention programs
Stakeholders expressed a range of views on perpetrator intervention programs and highlighted several areas for improvement.
Drawing on international literature, No to Violence provided a summary of program components that have been found to have either increased the safety of victim-survivors or resulted in a reduction in the perpetration of family violence, including:
ongoing case-management work with victim-survivors in order to support their safety, wellbeing and autonomy;
mixed group and individual sessions with perpetrators;
programs that run for at least 40 weeks;
culturally sensitive and trauma-informed interventions;
enhancement of program attendance and engagement through pre-group motivational interviewing sessions;
evidence-informed program design, including the use of a theory of change, program logic, and evaluation protocol; and
case management with perpetrators that support them to address co-occurring issues such as mental ill-health, homelessness, and alcohol and drug use.
Family and Relationship Services Australia submitted that perpetrator intervention programs are ‘an integral part of tackling family and domestic violence’, but that state and territory funding for these programs is ‘uneven’. It also highlighted key issues raised by its members that deliver PBCPs and other interventions, including the critical role of support services for partners/ex-partners and the importance of tailoring programs to participants.
Evidence on these and other issues relating to perpetrator intervention programs is discussed on the following pages.
Perpetrator interventions should be part of an integrated response
A consistent message was that perpetrator intervention programs should be part of an integrated response involving specialist FDSV services.
Women’s Safety NSW explained the wide array of services that interconnect with PBCPs, including ‘police, courts, corrective services, child protection, specialist domestic and family violence services supporting victims, health services, and family and relationship services’:
It is integral that these services work in a collaborative, cohesive manner to ensure that prevention and reduction of domestic and family violence remains at the forefront.
This was highlighted in recent research by ANROWS, which found examples of good practice ‘where perpetrator intervention systems are well integrated with specialist services for women and children’.
Mr Mark O’Hare from Stopping Family Violence, a peak body in Western Australia for supporting sectors and services involved in responding to perpetrators of FDSV, told the Committee it made a ‘huge difference’ when PBCPs were connected with other services:
… to actually make sure that these services are working from the same page, if you like—what we call DV informed—so each service is in fact complementing the other service.
In its submission, Women’s Safety NSW recommended that, in each state and territory, PBCPs in each geographical area be aligned and integrated with the FDSV service system response. It also recommended information sharing with relevant agencies and services to increase safety and reduce risk to victim-survivors.
The Tangentyere Council Aboriginal Corporation’s Central Australian Minimum Standards for MBCPs articulate the importance of women’s safety and men’s accountability being part of a holistic response with ‘integrated programs that complement each other and build over time’:
These programs share a commonality of practice and are mutually reinforcing, and they identify and respond to dynamic risk.
The standards set out an expectation that MBCPs should receive referrals from a wide range of services, and also make referrals to a wide range of services including mental health, drug and alcohol, housing, and financial support services. MBCPs should also communicate with a women’s safety worker, corrections officers, lawyers, and police to inform them of a participant’s progress.
Family and Relationship Services Australia also argued that PBCPs should be part of a broader suite of interventions, including individual case management, and linked to other support services, such as drug and alcohol services and mental health services. Furthermore, it said:
… if the basic needs (notably, accommodation) of participants in MBCPs are not being met, their capacity to engage meaningfully in the program is significantly curtailed.
Mission Australia also recommended that perpetrator programs have links with drug, alcohol, and gambling services.
White Ribbon Australia and Communicare highlighted the importance of specialist perpetrator intervention training in the broader social service sector. Interrelate also recommended capacity building to enable the workforce to work with men, and training for staff working ‘at the coal face’ of FDSV through relationship services.
The role of family and relationship services and other social services in early intervention is discussed earlier in this chapter.
The safety and wellbeing of victim-survivors is paramount
Witnesses and submitters highlighted the importance of perpetrator interventions prioritising the safety of victim-survivors, including through the provision of partner support services.
For example, the Northern Territory Council of Social Service submitted that PBCPs are ‘underpinned by the need to continually assess and manage the risk to victims (including children), ensuring their safety and freedom’.
Family and Relationship Services Australia submitted that it is ‘critical’ that PBCPs have companion support services for the partners or ex-partners of participants and for their children:
Their safety and wellbeing are paramount.
It expressed the view of its members that the lack of support services for children in their own right is a gap in the service delivery system.
The ACT Government submitted that partner support is the ‘cornerstone’ of the wrap-around safety involved in perpetrator intervention work:
Without contact with the people most impacted by a participant’s use of violence and abuse, it is impossible to determine if change has occurred or to manage risk. This work may, from the outside, present as if the focus is on men. However, this work needs to be focused on the safety of women and children. When that focus is lost, we run the risk of colluding with the person using violence and we lose the opportunity to effect real change.
Referring to its Room4Change behaviour change program, it explained that partner support is provided to all current partners of men in the program, as well as any ex-partners with whom they may have had children, and is often also extended to other family members such as parents who may have been impacted by their use of violence.
The Tangentyere Council Aboriginal Corporation’s Central Australian Minimum Standards for MBCPs set out the requirement for a women’s safety worker to work with women whose partners attend MBCPs. Among other things, the women’s safety worker assesses and monitors risk and shares information with other services to keep women safe.
However, Mr O’Hare from Stopping Family Violence told the Committee that funding had not increased in line with the increasing understanding about what is required to support safety for women and children. When asked by the Committee, Mr O’Hare agreed there was a lack of recognition that partner contact was a critical component of PBCPs. This is supported by ANROWS research that found that the ‘role of MBCPs in monitoring risk and providing partner support is undervalued’.
Women’s Safety NSW explained that there is variability as to whether and how the partner support component of PBCPs is provided, noting that it may be provided directly by the program provider or may be outsourced to a specialist FDSV service. However, it expressed the view that partner support should be provided by a specialist women’s service (or equivalent service for male victim-survivors), and that this should be done in a coordinated way so as to reduce the need for victim-survivors to ‘retell their stories and [be] passed from service to service’.
One size does not fit all
A common theme in evidence to the inquiry was that there is a need for interventions that are tailored to the specific needs and circumstances of perpetrators. This view was encapsulated by No to Violence, which explained that ‘one size does not fit all’:
First and foremost, one-size-fits all programs in response to perpetrators of family violence are less effective than interventions that target specific needs and risks of perpetrators.
… For example, interventions that seek to address both gendered power and socialisation as well as well as perpetrator needs, such as mental illness and ill health, substance misuse, and housing have demonstrated greater client retention and slightly higher reductions in recidivism compared to programs that address only gendered factors.
Ms Watt from No to Violence, elaborated on this point at a public hearing:
Like you and me, perpetrators have different life experiences. Men who choose to use violence have different trauma, different backgrounds, different upbringings and different cultural heritage, and they also pose different levels of risk. We basically need programs and interventions that are able to respond to these differences so that they are their most effective and they can prevent family violence into the future.
Family and Relationship Services Australia also argued that perpetrator intervention programs require ‘a nuanced approach’:
For example, practitioners may need to be alert to particular dynamics and experiences across different LGBTIQ+ groups, or have specialist expertise (including community connections) to work with different culturally and linguistically diverse communities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
It also noted the importance of understanding perpetrators’ personal histories and ‘factors that may have put them at greater risk of perpetration, such as childhood trauma, mental illness or alcohol/ substance abuse’.
However, as the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre explained, currently many PBCPs combine men from diverse backgrounds ‘including cultural and linguistic diversity, different perpetrator profiles, men with physical and/or cognitive disabilities’ in a single mainstream program.
No to Violence recommended a shift to evidence-based programs that ‘address individual variables leading to the choice to use abuse and violence’, including specialised programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, people with mental illness, adolescents, and people of diverse sexuality and gender. It suggested that such programs should be led by, or conducted in partnership with, organisations representing these communities.
Women’s Safety NSW argued that programs designed for specific groups result in more meaningful engagement and an increased likelihood of effectiveness.
White Ribbon Australia and Communicare suggested that perpetrator accountability and behaviour change could be supported through a ‘wider range of programs and services that more sufficiently encompass the diversity of ways perpetrators may present’.
ACON highlighted the need for behaviour change programs tailored for LGBTQI people who use violence. ACON explained that almost all perpetrator interventions in Australia are aimed at cisgender heterosexual men, with New South Wales and Victoria as the only states with any LGBTQI specific programs:
While men’s behaviour change programs do not explicitly exclude GBTQ men, they can be inappropriate as they are based on heteronormative assumptions, and GBTQ men may feel unsafe accessing these programs. These programs are not inclusive of female (cis and trans) or non-binary people who use violence. The lack of LGBTQ specific perpetrator programs is a significant barrier for community members needing to change their behaviour.
ACON recommended ongoing funding to develop, trial, and implement tailored group behaviour change programs for LGBTQI people who use violence, noting that these should be designed by or in partnership with LGBTQI community organisations.
ACON also noted that frameworks and standards for behaviour change programs exclude non-male perpetrators of intimate partner violence, and recommended these be updated to guide interventions for LGBTQI people of all genders.
Muslim Women Australia suggested that PBCPs are not effective for culturally and religiously diverse groups, and recommended a specialist approach to the development of PBCPs from these communities ‘with particular reference to the role faith and culture plays as a tool for empowerment’.
Settlement Services International, a community organisation that supports migrants and refugees, recommended the introduction of PBCPs that are in-language and in-culture. It argued that mainstream programs exclude some men from CALD communities and ‘are often not culturally responsive and do not recognise the nuances in understandings related to gender drivers, coercive control and domestic and family violence’.
As such, there is a lack of equity and justice in relation to accessing MBC programs for violent CALD men, putting women at risk.
At a public hearing, Mrs Juliana Nkrumah AM from Settlement Services Australia told the Committee about her work successfully adapting MBCPs for men from the Tamil, Hazara, Rohingya, and Arabic-speaking communities.
The Committee also heard from Mr Charlie King from CatholicCare NT about the NO MORE campaign, which commenced in 2006 with the aim of highlighting the issue of violence against women and girls across the Northern Territory. Reflecting on the program, Mr King said that men need to have ownership of the problem and the solution, but that women’s involvement is also critical to give a perspective of a lived experience of violence.
Mr King also told the Committee about efforts to address violence through community sport, which he said led to a significant reduction in family violence in the community.
Mr King said it was important to identify men ‘who want things to be better’ and work with them to bring about change in the community.
Bravehearts said that while the large majority of perpetrators are male, it should also be acknowledged that some women perpetrate violence in both same‑sex and heterosexual relationships and against adults and children:
If this is not acknowledged or discussed in developing prevention and intervention measures, the victims experiencing violence by female perpetrators will continue to face barriers in speaking out and seeking support.
Caxton Legal Centre highlighted what it considered to be a number of inadequacies in the provision of perpetrator intervention programs. These included an absence of programs for female and younger perpetrators, a lack of culturally safe programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and culturally and linguistically diverse perpetrators, and limited availability of individual counselling, which may be preferred by some perpetrators.
It also highlighted the importance of having a court support worker available to refer perpetrators to appropriate intervention programs:
Whilst duty lawyers can also do this, they do not possess the specialist skills to manage the trauma, complex relationships dynamics, mental health issues, shame, fear, anger that may be impacting the respondent.
A critical lack of evidence
Numerous submitters highlighted a lack of evidence about perpetrator intervention programs and a need for more evaluation to determine which approaches work.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) explained ‘there are limited data about how many MBCPs are being run nationally, the profile of clients, and the extent to which they are effective in reducing violence’. It nominated challenges involved in national reporting including the fragmented nature of the sector and inconsistencies in definitions and practices across states and territories.
The Committee heard that the AIHW was working with the states and territories to collect data on perpetrator interventions. Ms Louise York from the AIHW explained:
What we would really like to achieve is a better handle at least on the people going through these programs, the extent to which they complete them and the extent to which they are court ordered, and then use that information as a way to follow up on whether the behaviour changed in the long run.
She said that until this information was available at a national level, research on the efficacy of perpetrator interventions may be limited to local examples.
In its submission, the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre highlighted the lack of evidence about the efficacy of PBCPs:
To date, there have been a significant number of MBCPs trialled, piloted and/or funded by the government, however, with the exception of work funded by ANROWS under the perpetrator research stream, there remains a critical lack of evidence as to what works in engaging men in behaviour change. … Building this evidence base is critical to inform future reform activity and funding decisions at the state and national levels.
No to Violence similarly argued that there is a ‘dearth of evaluation-based evidence’ on perpetrator interventions, but also noted there is an increasing focus on research in this area, in particular through ANROWS’ Perpetrator Interventions Research Stream, which was a priority under the Second and Third Action Plans.
Interrelate submitted that there is a contentious debate regarding the efficacy of MBCPs. It argued that there is ‘no solid evidence that [MBCPs based on the Duluth model] are successful in preventing family violence even in countries where they have considerable traction’.
The Department of Social Services advised that international evidence suggested there is a low efficacy rate (around ten per cent) for perpetrator interventions, however it also pointed out that evidence is still emerging.
Domestic Violence Victoria and the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria said that perpetrator intervention programs and accountability measures have been ‘vastly under-researched’ and that debate about outcomes stemmed from ‘ongoing confusion and conflicting views about evaluation outcome measures, which have historically focussed on recidivism’.
In its submission, the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre elaborated on the challenges involved in evaluating PBCPs:
A key challenge here remains the utilisation of many MBCPs as a one-size fits all approach… Evaluation of such programs often cannot account for the diversity of program participants in the breakdown of findings due to small participant numbers, rendering many evaluation findings inconclusive or non-significant. Further, the majority of existing program evaluations are funded to examine short-term outcomes, often limited to observable behaviour change at program exit and potentially short-term follow up, leaving questions around the longevity of any behaviour change and its long-term impact on family safety and wellbeing. Further, while research evidence highlights the importance of a dedicated victim advocacy/ family safety worker component in each MBCP (Chung et al, 2020, Meyer et al, 2020), this component continues to vary across programs.
White Ribbon Australia and Communicare also highlighted that evaluation of perpetrator intervention programs is impeded by limited funding or short-term funding arrangements:
Behaviour change must be understood as a long-term process, therefore measuring behaviour change requires long-term engagement; however, funding levels for perpetrator engagement programs do not enable extended follow-up that would support assessments of behaviour change. Instead, funding levels limit evaluation to short-term behaviour change indicators of which may not yet be discernible. This is further hampered by short, two to three-year contract durations that prevents long-term evaluation from being included in the service model design.
The Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre recommended funding through the next National Plan for further trials of new perpetrator intervention models, along with evaluations of at least 24 months, and that these include programs specifically catering for the needs of diverse groups, consistent with the evidence outlined in the previous section.
No to Violence emphasised the need for a consistent framework to ensure that evidence is comparable across different perpetrator interventions. It referred to research from ANROWS that identified a need for support for program providers to better and more consistently design and evaluate programs, and recommended the establishment of an expert working group to design and implement a national evaluation framework.
No to Violence emphasised that outcome measures for perpetrator programs should include both supporting the safety of victim-survivors, and supporting perpetrators to end their use of violence.
Ms Watt from No to Violence said this was an area that would benefit from a national approach:
What I've often said in our work is that we're sort of building the plane as we're flying it. And that's where, again, national leadership on this issue could be really helpful to say, 'Well, what is the evidence base that works for that type of man or this type of man?'
Domestic Violence Victoria and the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria also supported the development of a national outcomes framework for PBCPs and said it was critical that programs are provided with adequate resourcing to ‘embed a quality evaluation culture’.
More generally, Our Watch submitted that there is a significant gap in data on the perpetration of violence. It argued that existing surveys such as the Personal Safety Survey and the Crime Victimisation Survey provide little information about the ‘dynamics and patterns of perpetration, or the characteristics of perpetrators’, and recommended consideration be given to a national, population level survey on perpetration.
Enhancing access and innovative approaches
Evidence to the inquiry also included suggestions for new approaches to perpetrator interventions to address concerns including the high attrition rate and the limited availability of programs.
No to Violence described the attrition rate for perpetrator intervention programs as a ‘major issue’, with data indicating that a ‘significant number of clients are not completing programs’. It highlighted international studies demonstrating that the use of ‘motivational interviewing’ can lead to increased retention and reductions in recidivism, and recommended funding for a pilot of this approach in Australia.
Family and Relationship Services Australia said its members delivering PBCPs had emphasised that is important to find the motivation in men to change, and that this is often the desire to be a better parent.
Interrelate, a not-for-profit provider of relationship services, pointed out that, at present, a minority of men who use violence attend MBCPs and an even smaller number complete programs. Further, it argued that the eligibility criteria for MBCPs mean that programs are ‘working with a cohort who are ready and willing to make changes’.
Women’s Safety NSW shared survey data in which 14 per cent of victim-survivors said that their abuser had accessed a PBCP.
Interrelate also questioned what it said was the ‘punitive law and order approach’ of many MBCPs, arguing there is ‘growing evidence that punitive responses alone have a limited deterrent effect on men who use violence and external punitive motivators do not work’. Instead, it recommended that men be engaged earlier, ‘rather than waiting until the level of abuse brings them into contact with the justice system’:
Many men who present to relationship services, mediation, or supervised contact, that are using abuse or violent behaviour have not yet entered the criminal justice system or are at earlier stages of offending. This is the point where engaging men in a change program can have a marked effect on outcomes for children and ultimately for the way they think about and treat women.
It pointed to its Respectful Man program as an example of an alternative approach to behaviour change that ‘aims to help men better understand their behaviours and the impacts of their behaviours on others and themselves’.
White Ribbon Australia and Communicare also noted that while participation in MBCPs is often a result of involvement in the criminal justice system:
… some men may exhibit abusive behaviour that has evaded or not risen to a level to initiate criminal justice intervention. Offering [MBCPs] that are not ‘offender-based’ or described as ‘targeting perpetrators’ may serve to build multiple system access points prior to escalating to the need for criminal justice intervention.
Evidence in relation to early intervention is discussed earlier in this chapter.
As noted above, a number of witnesses and submitters explained that there are not enough programs to meet demand. Particular concerns were raised about the limited availability of programs in regional and remote locations. For example, No to Violence submitted that ‘there remain many locations across Australia with no access to [PBCPs]’.
The more regional you get, the less likely there is a program…
Mr Russell Hooper from No to Violence expanded on this point at a public hearing:
For example, members in Queensland have spoken to us about a waiting list of up to 18 months. In some places in remote Western Australia there is just no support available.
Mission Australia also relayed concerns about a lack of services for perpetrators in regional, rural and remote areas, outside of the police and courts:
Consultation with local communities in many areas of Australia has indicated that community members are concerned about the lack of options for dealing with perpetrators, including lack of temporary accommodation and men’s behaviour change programs.
In a Women’s Safety NSW survey of 46 FDSV specialists, 62 per cent reported having an accredited MBCP in their geographical area.
White Ribbon Australia and Communicare stated there are not enough PBCPs to meet demand, placing ‘enormous strain’ on service providers and requiring programs to cater to a diverse group of perpetrators—that is, to be ‘all things to all people’. It referred to research by No to Violence that found the average wait time for services is 2.5 months, with the longest wait time being 40 weeks. As noted earlier in this chapter, the current waiting time for a place in Communicare’s Breathing Space program is 12 weeks:
These are men who know they need help, but are unable to access it, putting women and children in further danger.
Mr O’Hare from Stopping Family Violence stressed that there needed to be enough programs for both mandated and non-mandated participants:
We know that the longer somebody is waiting to get into a program post-referral, the less successful that program is going to be for them. So at the time of motivation, at the time that they are motivated to attend the program, we really need to be getting them into that program as soon as possible.
No to Violence argued that investment in the sector should be lifted, but also said it was investigating new approaches, including through the use of technology, to increase access to services in areas where there are currently none available. It referred to its Brief Intervention Service, funded by the Australian Government as part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which provides multiple telephone sessions to engage with men who are on waiting lists or do not have access to programs:
This does not replace programs, but something is better than nothing.
Similarly, the Northern Territory Council of Social Service recommended specific funding for community services to provide specialised FDSV counselling for perpetrators who cannot access PBCPs.
Mr Hooper from No to Violence reflected on changes made during the COVID‑19 pandemic, when behaviour change groups were carried out online rather than in-person to meet physical distancing requirements. He said there was potential for innovations to come out of this period:
For example, for GBTI men it's hard in regional areas to get enough for a men's behaviour change group, but, if you were going across different jurisdictions or different towns, you could get a critical mass to deliver these programs.
Also reflecting on the period since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre explained that in shifting online, some programs had reached known perpetrators who otherwise would be unsupported. Contact with women and children linked to men in such programs had also been done remotely, with some advantages to this approach:
Practitioners reflected that when delivered remotely, these points of contact were not restricted by geographic and time challenges associated with face-to-face client meetings.
Like No to Violence, the Centre argued that these innovations could lead to improvements in the delivery of perpetrator intervention programs in the post COVID-19 period, especially in remote areas. However, it also stressed that, given the ‘heightened invisibility of perpetrators’ during this period, it would be important to ‘rigorously evaluate the benefits of any innovations operating during this period to maintain contact with perpetrators and ensure ongoing engagement’.
Holding perpetrators to account
Some stakeholders also discussed broader issues relating to perpetrator accountability.
Domestic Violence Victoria and the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria argued that perpetrator accountability extends beyond legal remedies or attendance at a perpetrator intervention program:
It also speaks to the system’s responsibility to widen its focus to perpetrators in our collective effort to end family violence.
Quoting a 2018 report of the Victorian Government’s Expert Advisory Committee on Perpetrator Interventions, it went on:
This means that when ‘changes are made in one part of the system, the flow-on impacts to other parts of the system are considered and managed effectively’.
It recommended that the Australian Government have a ‘clear perpetrator accountability lens in all decisions about family violence policy, systems, legislation, program funding and research’.
The Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre discussed its research that indicated the need for improved perpetrator accountability in court processes. It recommended measures to assist in judicial decision making in FDSV matters, including the development of a centralised online register of perpetrator intervention programs.
Some submitters referred to research published in 2020 by ANROWS on improving perpetrator accountability. The research found that there are ‘exceptionally high expectations’ placed on MBCPs:
A systemic assumption appeared to be that a perpetrator had been held to account by the court simply through being a respondent to a court order and referred to an MBCP, and that the MBCP would, in turn, “make him accountable”. MBCP practitioners noted that this was not always realistic, given that MBCPs only had a relatively short period in which to address what might be highly entrenched attitudes and behaviour, in the context of societal acceptance of a level of gender inequality.
The research also found that a broader conception of perpetrator intervention systems could see an opportunity for human services agencies to have a greater role in identifying and responding to perpetrators:
Keeping the perpetrator in view is a key challenge for perpetrator intervention systems. Human services agencies (particularly mental health, alcohol and other drugs, and child protection services) regularly come into contact with perpetrators of domestic and family violence, however men’s use of violence is often invisible or secondary in these contexts. With appropriate training and increased information sharing between agencies, human services agencies could work together with the justice system and with specialist domestic and family violence agencies to create a “web of accountability”, and to guide men towards changing their violent behaviours, their violence-supportive attitudes and their use of coercive control.
Interrelate submitted that the ‘historical focus on getting women to leave violent relationships and using criminal responses as the only means to address violence has resulted in the social services sector under developing skills in working with men’.
Samaritans Foundation argued for a focus on increasing perpetrator responsibility as well as accountability. It quoted the ANROWS research referred to above, which explained that accountability can be externally imposed or internally developed:
The second form of perpetrator accountability is one that is internally developed through men’s behaviour change programs (MBCPs), with the intention that men who use violence develop a sense of responsibility and commit to being accountable to their partners and children. This form of accountability involves the cultivation of an internal sense of responsibility for behaviour, rather than the imposition of external sanctions.
The Committee agrees that the next National Plan should include measures to increase perpetrator responsibility and accountability. However, the Committee does not suggest that this should simply involve an increase in civil and criminal penalties.
Perpetrator responsibility and accountability must come from a multi-factored approach to working with perpetrators, victim-survivors, and their families. Early intervention is also critical, along with education and primary prevention, as discussed in Chapter 6 of this report.
The Committee considers there are opportunities for organisations and agencies in the broader social services sector to play a greater role in both early intervention and perpetrator intervention. The Committee considers that this would benefit from a more consistent national approach to risk assessment and risk management.
The Committee is particularly attracted to programs which leverage existing networks, such as the Brisbane South Primary Health Network’s Recognise, Respond, Refer program discussed earlier in this chapter. Programs such as this have the potential to scale up to involve participating GPs throughout the nation, particularly benefitting victim-survivors and perpetrators based in regional, rural and remote areas.
The Committee recommends that the next National Plan include measures to support the social services sector (including the health, mental health, disability, family and relationships, and alcohol and other drugs sectors) to have a greater role in identifying and responding to family, domestic and sexual violence.
These measures should include but not be limited to:
training for all staff in identifying family, domestic and sexual violence and working with perpetrators;
measures to support increased information sharing about perpetrators; and
measures to support a more consistent national approach to risk assessment and risk management.
The Committee recommends that the next National Plan include measures to leverage the existing network of Primary Health Networks to improve the identification and response to family, domestic and sexual violence in general practices. These should include consideration of a national rollout of the Recognise, Respond, Refer program, subject to a positive evaluation of the current trial.
Perpetrator referral services
The Committee supports an extension of the Australian Government’s temporary COVID-19 funding to No to Violence to support the continued operation of the Men’s Referral Service across all states and territories for a further 18 months.
However, at the same time, the Committee recommends a review of referral services with a view to ensuring that, in the longer term, appropriate support is available to all perpetrators who are seeking support to change their behaviour. This review should give consideration to the need for a single nationally coordinated intake point for perpetrators.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government provide additional funding to No to Violence to support the national operation of the Men’s Referral Service for a further three years.
The Committee recommends that the Department of Social Services review the adequacy of referral services for perpetrators of family, domestic and sexual violence. The review should give consideration to the need for greater consistency across jurisdictions and the establishment of a single nationally coordinated intake point for perpetrators seeking behavioural change.
Perpetrator behaviour change programs
In relation to perpetrator intervention programs, and behaviour change programs in particular, the Committee acknowledges that there is some concern that these programs divert funding from essential support services for women and children.
However, the Committee considers that this view disregards the importance of early intervention, and suggests that perpetrators are incapable of reforming their behaviour. The Committee does not accept this proposition.
The Committee considers that increased funding for behaviour change programs is critical to reducing the prevalence of FDSV. It is also clear that specialised behaviour change programs are needed to cater to a wider range of perpetrators.
As the Committee has recommended in Chapter 2 of this report, the next National Plan should include a target of a significant and long-term increase in the number of perpetrators attending and successfully completing behaviour change programs.
To support the achievement of this target, the Committee wishes to see the establishment of a centralised online register of perpetrator intervention programs and funding for dedicated perpetrator court support workers to enable offenders to be referred to appropriate programs and other support services.
The experience of providers of perpetrator intervention programs since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic suggests there is an also opportunity to embrace the use of technology to enable a broader and more flexible range of programs, and ultimately assist more perpetrators to change their behaviour. The Committee encourages governments to explore further opportunities to use technology in improving program delivery, both during and after the COVID-19 period.
The Committee also wishes to see greater recognition, including through the provision of increased funding, of the important role of support services delivered in conjunction with behaviour change programs.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government and state and territory governments provide additional dedicated funding for perpetrator behaviour change programs.
This should include funding to trial new perpetrator intervention models, and specialised perpetrator behaviour change programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, people with mental illness, people with disability, adolescents, people of diverse sexuality and gender, and women.
Funded programs should be integrated with specialist family and domestic violence and other services, and should include an evaluation component consistent with the proposed national outcomes framework, which will contribute to building the evidence base on perpetrator interventions.
This funding should not be delivered through reductions in funding to services for victim-survivors.
To support an increase in the number or perpetrators attending and completing behaviour change programs, the Committee recommends that:
the Australian Government and state and territory governments establish a centralised online register of perpetrator intervention programs; and
state and territory governments provide funding for perpetrator court support workers to enable offenders to be referred to appropriate behaviour change programs and other support services.
The Committee recommends that the next National Plan include measures to support increased use of technology in delivering perpetrator behaviour change programs, where it is safe to do so. These measures should aim to support programs including but not limited to:
programs for specific cohorts in sparsely populated regional, rural and remote areas who would not otherwise have access to specialised programs; and
alternatives to group-based programs for perpetrators for whom such programs are not appropriate.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government and state and territory governments provide dedicated funding to perpetrator behaviour change program providers and specialist family and domestic violence services to deliver support services for partners, ex-partners, children, and other family members of perpetrators enrolled in perpetrator behaviour change programs.
While supportive of an increase in the use of behaviour change programs, the Committee is concerned that too little is known about what works to change perpetrators’ behaviour, reduce the risk of recidivism, and ensure the safety of victim-survivors.
The Committee supports the development of a national outcomes framework for behaviour change programs, which it expects will contribute to better and more consistent practice across the country, and more rigorous evaluation to build the evidence base over time.
The Committee also recommends funding for more research to better understand who commits acts of family violence and why, and how often they reoffend.
The Committee recommends that the Department of Social Services lead the development of a national outcomes framework for evidence-based perpetrator behaviour change programs.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, working with states and territories where appropriate, provide funding for research on the backgrounds, characteristics, and recidivism rates of perpetrators of family violence with a view to informing future policy and practice in relation to perpetrator interventions. This should include research on adolescents, women, and children who perpetrate violence against their parents, as well as men.
The Committee further recommends that the Australian Government consider the development of an annual national, population level survey on the perpetration of family violence.
Lastly, the Committee acknowledges the success of the Maranguka Justice Reinvestment Project, and recognises the importance of empowering Indigenous people to lead in the creation and implementation of place-based approaches to addressing FDSV. The Committee also acknowledges the New South Wales Police Force and the manner in which they have collaborated in partnership with the Indigenous community in Bourke in the design and ongoing implementation of the project.
The Committee wishes to see other communities and organisations around Australia be supported to build on the success of the project.
The Committee recommends that state and territory governments work with local community-based organisations to design and implement place-based models of justice reinvestment, similar to that used in the Maranguka Justice Reinvestment Project, as a matter of priority across Australia.