Chapter 7

Chapter 7

Early intervention

7.1        Primary prevention measures need to be supported by early intervention (or secondary prevention) programs, which aim to assist at risk individuals avoid domestic and family violence or help remove them from situations where violence is escalating.

7.2        This chapter will focus on early intervention programs with perpetrators which are recognised as an essential part of behaviour change. While not all perpetrator programs are early intervention measures, the clear message to the committee was that perpetrator programs need to be available as early as possible on the continuum of domestic and family violence to change behaviour and prevent escalation.

7.3        The chapter will also briefly cover early intervention programs to assist children deal with the effects of domestic and family violence.

Early intervention measures

7.4        Early intervention measures can include: educational programs; training for professionals working in the sector; administering domestic and family violence screening as part of health services;[1] assisting children to recover from traumatic events; culturally appropriate targeted programs to support Indigenous families build and strengthen relationships; and programs to prevent homelessness and support women to stay at home. They can also target individuals or population sub-groups who are showing early signs of violent behaviour to reduce the likelihood of them perpetrating acts of domestic and family violence. 

Interventions targeting perpetrator behaviour

7.5        Although the development and implementation of perpetrator programs are predominantly handled by the states and territories,[2] their importance is recognised by the National Plan, which states:

Perpetrator interventions are now recognized as an essential part of an effective plan to reduce violence against women and their children.[3]

7.6        Some submissions and witnesses discussed improvements that could be made to intervention programs working with perpetrators to change their patterns of behaviour.

Demand and supply

7.7        Dr Deborah Walsh, a senior domestic and family violence practitioner told the committee about the increased need for perpetrator programs:

Most often men who use violence enter these programs through one of two pathways, either a social mandate (via a partner) or a legal mandate (via court order or child protection) with small numbers recognising they have a problem and help seek on their own. With changes to a number of states Domestic Violence legislations, which now empower courts to divert men to these programs we are seeing a dramatic increase in demand for these services.[4]

7.8        Women's Health in the North indicated the demand for behaviour change programs exceeds supply:

Like the demand for services to women and children, the demand for men's behaviour change program by perpetrators of violence far exceeds the current resources provided to deliver the programs.[5]

7.9        Women's Health in the North submitted there is a need to increase access to men's behaviour change programs, including delivering culturally specific programs for certain groups:

Increased access to men's behaviour change programs is also required, including dedicated resourcing for culturally appropriate and language specific programs...Like the demand for services to women and children, the demand for men's behaviour change program by perpetrators of violence far exceeds the current resources provided to deliver the programs.

The lack of funding for response services also impacts on prevention work, as it is difficult to build the case for organisations to implement primary prevention strategies when women and children's safety is at risk. However, if we do not increase our efforts to prevent violence against women before it occurs, the demand for response services will continue to escalate.[6]

7.10      Mr Daniel Stubbs, Director, Inner City Legal Centre, drew the committee's attention to the need for dedicated programs working with LGBTI perpetrators:

I do not think I will surprise anyone by saying that the perpetrators are the problem, and we need perpetrator programs. We do not deal with perpetrators, so that is not something we can talk about extensively, but we recognise, just like in heterosexual relationships, we are seeing people in LGBTI relationships being perpetrators in domestic violence, sometimes more than once. That is an issue that needs to be recognised.[7]


7.11      Dr Walsh argued that despite the increased demand for the perpetrator programs we do not know if they are really effective and more data needs to be collected to identify successful programs:

If Australia intends to contribute to eliminating violence against women and children then we need to address the inadequacies in the area of men's violence intervention. Currently Men's Behaviour Change Programs (MBCP) across Australia is fragmented; inconsistent and has little evidence of success. Practitioners and services are reporting they are working with serial victims from the same perpetrator because there are no effective interventions in place to address their violence.[8]

7.12      Mr Joe Morrison, Chief Executive Officer, Northern Land Council noted the  2011-12 Closing the Gap Clearinghouse report into how to overcome Indigenous disadvantage. Mr Morrison emphasised that the report found programs are successful when designed with Aboriginal people:

[The Closing the Gap Clearinghouse report] provides clear evidence that programs are successful when designed and delivered in partnership with Aboriginal people. What is known is that Aboriginal people know what works and what does not. This approach should be verified with robust data-collection methods for evaluation and accountability for service providers.[9]

Minimum standards

7.13      Mr Rodney Vlais, Acting Chief Executive Officer, No to Violence, also highlighted that men's behaviour change programs in Australia were less successful than in other countries. In part, he saw this as a consequence of funding pressures leading to shorter, less involved intervention programs for perpetrators:

...our various minimum standards for men's behaviour change program work in Australia are probably on average fairly weak compared to other countries. Just to give an example, the UK accreditation standard—[called DV perpetrator programs]—is a minimum of 60 hours face-to-face intervention in order for programs to be seen as safe and appropriate in the UK. Whereas we have many existing minimum standards for men's behaviour change programs in Australia where the minimum is still 24 hours face-to-face. And we know that is insufficient. We are just not able to get the funding to update our standards.[10]


7.14      Mr Greg Aldridge, Managing Director, Canberra Men's Centre, reported a need for more funding for perpetrator interventions, especially as research suggests that longer-term intervention programs are more effective than short behavioural change courses.

So the big problem that I see is that we absolutely have to protect the funding for services to support the victims of violence, which means that if you are going to develop effective services to dealing with men you have to create whole new funding streams. But it needs to be properly resourced and it needs to be independent so that practitioners can have the capacity to develop meaningful programs and evaluate them. That is going to cost more money in an environment where there is less money.[11]

7.15      Ms Regina Bennett, Coordinator, Darwin Aboriginal and Islander Women's Shelter (DAIWS), reported that they had been able to secure funding for another three years through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy for the Strong Men, Strong Families program.[12]

7.16      It was emphasised to the committee that the resources required to provide effective perpetrator programs, as with primary prevention measures, should not be at the expense of crisis services. For example Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Victoria stated that:

FVPLS Victoria supports programs for perpetrators in principle but emphasises that this must not occur at the expense of resourcing for women's safety.[13]


7.17      Mr David Smyth, Chair, Violence Free Families, highlighted that an integrated approach was necessary:

When a man presents at an agency, ostensibly with behaviour problems—violence problems—it is normal to do an intake and assessment interview with that man. At that time quite a lot of men are assessed as having problems that need to be addressed, apart from this violence problem—substance abuse and mental illness are among them, and many other problems can emerge. Where we need an integrated approach at a therapeutic level is to be able to assess the men and divert them into the program that is most suitable for their needs, rather than having a one size fits all behaviour change program. That is lacking. That is beyond the resources of most agencies.[14]

7.18      Mr Vlais, No to Violence, also highlighted the need for men's behaviour programs to be linked with other services:

...I think the future for the programs is seeing them not as standalone interventions but as part of a coordinated community network of services, and the evaluations need to reflect that. The evaluations need to reflect what impact a program is having on his ability to be a good father and the ability of the child protection or family services system to work with him. How is it supporting corrections to do their job better? How is it having direct benefits for her safety, because she is starting to feel stronger now. She is starting to feel that because a program is engaging him she can now make more demands slightly more safely about him changing, and how we support her to do that.[15]

7.19      Mr Greg Aldridge, Canberra Men's Centre, commented that behaviour change programs should also better support perpetrators as they return to everyday life and the environment that contributed to a violent response:

Because once they leave those classrooms, they go back out into the world and the world around them is the same as what it was when they went in. So our concern is that we have an impact on the community of people that live around that person so that they can support long-term behavioural change. Part of that, I guess, is about empowerment of relationships. But it is also about helping people to learn how to live more effectively with each other.[16]


7.20      Mr Aldridge also told the committee there has been a tendency to focus on perpetrator interventions in an urban context. However, he highlighted the importance of supporting behaviour change programs in regional areas:

Domestic violence happens in communities everywhere in Australia, including communities that are at a distance from city centres, which have central revenue bases that can fund some degree of service provision. My concern is that if we are going to have an effective regime for working with perpetrators, it needs to be something that can be rolled out in areas where there is lower regional revenue bases and where local people can be skilled to work within their own communities. Current directions around research and service provision tend to be very focused on the metropolitan context, without any thought of how we are going to be effective in the other communities where the need is just as great.[17]

7.21      Mr Smyth, Violence Free Families, told the committee that it may be worth considering delivering men's behaviour change courses online, as it meant some of the barriers to participation were reduced for certain groups:

Behaviour change programs to date have always been done face-to-face, typically with two facilitators in a room with a dozen or so men. The men, of course, have to be there in person—and that is a problem for many men, because there are no programs or very few programs in rural areas, by and large, because we have a lot of fly-in fly-out workers, shift workers and all sorts of other people who cannot attend for various reasons. And we have a lot of men who simply will not go because they are afraid of being shamed in public.[18]

7.22      Mr Michael Torres, Men's Outreach Worker, DAIWS, told the committee that these programs are needed but should take account of low literacy levels and the need for longer term support:

A lot of the men out there—like this man I have now, he cannot read and write. I have to talk to him about his whole relationship stuff. I have to get it to the level where they can do their problem solving and work it out...'You have to give up drinking alcohol and give up drugging. You have to stop fighting with the missus and work out how can you do it.' But it is going to take a long time. I have had men for six months, one year or three years going through this stuff. Small programs do not work. There is a longer term.[19]

7.23      Ms Bennett, DAIWS, also mentioned that in the Northern Territory, until men are sentenced, they are not eligible for programs to address domestic and family violence whereas in other states men on remand can access programs.[20]

The need for research

7.24      The need for more research to strengthen the evidence base for early intervention perpetrator programs has been recognised. In the Second Action Plan, one of the five national priorities – areas of work that all governments agree are important to pursue over the next three years – is 'improving perpetrator interventions'.[21]

7.25      The first major task of ANROWS was to produce the National Research Agenda on behalf of the Commonwealth, state and territory governments. In May 2014, the National Research Agenda to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children was released. Strategic Research Theme 3 'Service responses and interventions' includes 'Interventions targeting men who use violence'. The topics listed are 'Standardised treatment models and efficacy of programs across jurisdictions; sub populations; court-mandated programs; programs removing men from the home; unintended outcomes'.[22] The research agenda states:

Research into interventions with men who use violence is well-represented in the literature. More rigorous evaluations are, however, required into treatment models and the efficacy of programs and techniques across jurisdictions. This should include exploring: recidivism; what assists men to cease violence long-term; and interventions with sub-populations, especially men from rural and remote communities, CALD backgrounds and Indigenous communities. Programs removing the perpetrator of domestic and family violence from the family home and mandated or court-referred programs are of particular current interest to policy and practice. Further research is also needed to investigate unintended outcomes of interventions with men, especially on victim safety.[23]

7.26      States and territories will use the resulting evidence to inform and improve the future delivery of perpetrator intervention responses.[24]

7.27      Witnesses saw a need for greater investment in evaluating men's behaviour change programs, so that better programs can be designed and delivered in the future. For instance, Mr Vlais, No to Violence, commented that evaluation of behaviour change needs to be undertaken over the long term:

I think now we are really understanding that we have to be really careful about what we expect from these programs. They are not just a standalone intervention. They are really part of a whole integrated response...Yes, some men do change their behaviour. Some men change from violence and then slip back. That is why evaluation really needs to be long-term over 15 months or two years. Some men will change some tactics of their violence and increase others.[25]

National outcome standards

7.28      Ms Marcia Williams, Chair, ACT Domestic Violence Prevention Council, told the committee that perpetrator programs should be made consistent in their standards and evaluation processes, saying there was a need: think about the approaches to perpetrators, and getting some standards and evaluations of [programs] so that we get a common approach to that.[26]

7.29      The committee notes that work being undertaken by COAG will include the development of a set of national outcome standards for perpetrator interventions, to hold them and the services and systems that deal with them to account.[27] While welcoming the work to develop perpetrator intervention outcome standards, the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria cautioned:

However, given the many risks involved in running these programs, the broad, overarching nature of these outcome standards - worded more at the level of principles rather than standards - needs to be followed by the next layers of detail. Without these layers underneath, the room for multiple interpretations and misinterpretations of particular standards is too great, providing room for detrimental and harmful practice. A sufficient level of specificity is required to provide the conceptual clarity through which to hold programs accountable.[28]

7.30      The Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria suggested the UK accreditation standard for domestic and family violence perpetrator programs is a strong example of a sufficient minimum standards set.[29]

Opportunities to engage with perpetrators

7.31      Although working with perpetrators as soon as possible through early intervention programs is important, other events also offer further opportunities to engage with perpetrators to change behaviour.

7.32      Ms Fiona McCormack, Chief Executive Officer, Domestic Violence Victoria, stressed that the current outlook for perpetrator programs will only have a marginal effect, due to the small number of men who participate:

The reality is that those programs will only focus on 10 per cent of the perpetrators, leaving 90 per cent to continue victimising others. So it is only scratching the surface of what we can do. It is like a really heavy table with one leg missing: we are trying to address the issue of family violence but we have that fourth corner balanced on a wafer when the only interventions against men are intervention orders or men's behaviour change programs, which come too late. We really need to be building capacity across our community, to understand the causes and dynamics but also to work more strategically. It is very interesting when men feel the consequences of their behaviour, when there is a tightening of the web of accountability, how much this reduces.[30]

7.33      Dr Deborah Walsh, a senior domestic and family violence practitioner, was of the view that when domestic and family violence intersects with the child protection system there is an opportunity to intervene with the perpetrator to support behaviour change and 'provide an environment over time where children can be safe and families have a chance to develop non-violent ways of operating':

A whole of family approach will take resourcing in a range of areas both inside and outside of the child protection system. Inside the system there will require a shift in focus from the victim acting protectively by separating from the violent partner to the perpetrator showing cause as to how he can act in ways that promote safety. This might mean that for a short time he might need to leave the family home and be subject to supervised visits while he engages in a violent men's attitude and behaviour change program until safety can be demonstrated.[31]

7.34      The Queensland Domestic Violence Network described the issues of perpetrator programs interacting with the legal system:

Current policy and community responses support the use of perpetrator programs that make the perpetrator accountable for behaviours whilst supporting his current or previous partner. Information gathered by service providers indicates a high dropout rate of participants, along with a high recidivism rate of both those who complete a program and those who do not. In addition, current magisterial approaches to Voluntary Intervention Orders (VIOs) suggest these orders may be used as a 'sell' to get perpetrators into a program. That is, it is suggested a VIO may be issued in place of a Domestic Violence Order (DVO) if that person agrees to attend a perpetrator program. Often, in these cases, there is no further consequence for that person if he leaves the program early, that is, the VIO is not withdrawn and replaced with a DVO including special conditions. Although this approach does dramatically increase the number of intakes into perpetrator programs, it does not ensure the safety of the current or previous partner, nor does it hold the perpetrator accountable for his actions, ensuring accountability through, not only attendance, but ready and purposeful engagement in the program. In addition, the legal system continues to rely on the respondent to identify and respond to concerning behaviours, report breaches, and take steps to change conditions.[32]

7.35        Ms Pauline Woodbridge, Convenor, Queensland Domestic Violence Services Network, told the committee behaviour change programs could be made more effective by making participation mandatory as part of legal sentencing handed down to perpetrators by courts:

Then the perpetrator actually gets told very clearly by this system, 'What you're doing is totally unacceptable in our community, but our punishment to you is going to be to help you change,' so they get mandated into really respectful, respectable and well-principled men's behaviour change programs and, during the time that they are in those programs, they have to report to the court that sentenced them. This happens in other parts of the country, and I believe it is a very powerful way of holding perpetrators accountable.[33]

7.36      The committee notes the recently published paper by the Centre for Innovative Justice at RMIT University which highlights the potential of the justice system to interrupt the cycle of family violence and ensure perpetrators are held to account.[34] The report indicates that its purpose is to turn 'the spotlight on perpetrators of family violence' and:

...until we adjust the lens and bring those who use violence and coercion more clearly into view – until we intervene at the source of the problem – the cycle of this violence will simply roll on. This may manifest in assaults against the same or subsequent partners, in the damaging effects we know are experienced by children, in the behaviour of adolescents, or in the tragic escalation that can devastate an entire community.[35]

Intervention for children

7.37      Early intervention programs for children help them deal with trauma as they recover from domestic and family violence, as well as helping to educate them about domestic and family violence so they do not go on to become perpetrators themselves.

7.38      The committee notes that the National Plan recognises the effects of domestic and family violence on children:

Violence not only affects the victim themselves, but the children who are exposed to it, their extended families, their friends, their work colleagues and ultimately the broader community. Too many young people in Australia have witnessed acts of physical domestic violence against a parent.[36]

7.39      The Australian Women's Health Network outlined the concerns for children:

The experience of growing up in a violent home can be devastating and increases children's risk of mental health, behavioural and learning difficulties. Boys who witness domestic violence are at a greater risk of becoming perpetrators as adults.[37]

7.40      The Victorian State-wide Children's Resource Program noted that children who had witnessed domestic and family violence needed early intervention programs to help them deal with trauma and break the cycle of violence:

There needs to be appropriate therapeutic support for children at the earliest possible time...Early intervention programs have significant impacts on children recovering from traumatic events, including reducing the trans-generational cycle of violence. Addressing children's trauma in the early years will have a significant cost benefit as this will reduce the likelihood that these children will become adult service system users.[38]

7.41      Mr Peter Bravos, Acting Assistant Commissioner, Crime and Specialist Support Command, Northern Territory Police reported:

Sadly, 42 per cent of Indigenous young people report witnessing domestic assaults compared with 23 per cent of all children. Research highlights that children who are exposed to violence will have a higher propensity to commit acts of violence themselves as adults. There is a real need to break this cycle.[39]

7.42      Beryl Women Inc. submitted that some of the people they provide services to are 'third generational clients'. To address this, it suggested targeting early intervention programs at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children while they were accommodated in crisis housing:

Early intervention and prevention is the key to successful outcomes for children. We have a sitting population of children who require a range of services to break the patterns that are often intergenerational. Resources to address this issue needs to be available for services to provide long-term support to clients once they leave the refuge, it is unrealistic to expect short bursts of intervention by specific domestic/family violence services to women and their children within a short timeframe whilst accommodated in crisis services to heal families who are experiencing trans generational trauma.[40]

7.43      SunnyKids reported that 75 per cent of victims of domestic and family violence are children and also highlighted that some of their clients are third and fourth generation users of refuge services.[41]

Committee view

7.44      The committee notes the importance of providing specific support services for children. Addressing the trauma resulting from domestic and family violence and providing education on domestic and family violence is critical to break the cycle for the next generation.

7.45      The committee supports the view expressed by stakeholders over the course of this inquiry, that perpetrators of domestic and family violence must take responsibility for their actions.

7.46      The committee supports the use of early intervention programs to reduce the risk, escalation and severity of violence and its effects and encourages the provision of sustainable funding for early intervention initiatives. A greater emphasis on prevention and early intervention strategies would assist and eventually reduce the number of families who interact with the child protection, court, justice and emergency accommodation systems.

7.47      Effective violence intervention programs that provide education, therapy and support, while ensuring accountability, are critical to ensure violent behaviour is addressed as soon as possible so that services are not dealing with subsequent victims of the same perpetrator. The importance of intervention programs is recognised in the National Plan, as is the work to be done in this area to improve the availability of programs, as well as to ensure programs are evidence-based.

7.48      The committee notes that jurisdictions are working to expand the range of perpetrator interventions and have recognised that the evidence base for perpetrator interventions requires strengthening.[42]

7.49      The committee welcomes the research work being undertaken by ANROWS to enable the states and territories to provide effective perpetrator programs. As mentioned and recommended in chapter 5, the long term nature of the research required in this and other areas by ANROWS means funding certainty beyond 2016 is critical.

7.50      The committee also welcomes the work being undertaken by COAG to develop a set of national outcome standards for perpetrator interventions but echoes the concerns of witnesses that the standards must be sufficiently specific to facilitate accountability.

7.51      The committee also believes that this work should specifically consider the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, CALD and LGBTI perpetrators as well as those in regional areas.

Recommendation 11

7.52      The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government ensures the work being undertaken by COAG to develop a set of national outcome standards for perpetrator interventions use standards which are robust and sufficiently specific to ensure perpetrators are held accountable for their actions and the standards are demonstrably effective in breaking the cycle of violence. This work should consider the particular needs of ATSI, CALD and LGBTI perpetrators as well as those in regional areas.

7.53      The committee believes that the paper published by the Centre for Innovative Justice at RMIT University[43] which highlights the potential use of the justice system to interrupt the cycle of family violence and hold perpetrators to account should be considered by the COAG Advisory Panel to assist COAG identify further opportunities to hold perpetrators to account.

Recommendation 12

7.54      The committee recommends that the recent report by the Centre for Innovative Justice at RMIT be considered by the COAG Advisory Panel to assist COAG to identify other opportunities to hold perpetrators to account and change their behaviours.

7.55      The committee supports early intervention programs for children to help them deal with the trauma of domestic and family violence and to ensure they do not in turn become part of a transgenerational cycle of violence.

7.56      In April 2009, COAG endorsed Protecting Children is Everyone’s Business—National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009–2020. This framework is aimed at reducing child abuse and neglect in Australia over time. The National Plan and the National Framework are designed to work in tandem to bring about positive change for women and children experiencing violence.[44]

7.57      Specific programs targeted at children and young adults are mentioned in chapter 6 on primary prevention and chapter 10 on support services.  

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