opinion

'If we’re serious about ending domestic violence, we need to start talking to men.'

Recent commitments from political leaders on domestic violence reform have been welcome, but gaps still exist when it comes to engaging with men who use violence. The March 5th announcement that the Federal Government will commit $68 million for prevention strategies were a step in the right direction. This followed a February 26th announcement that NSW Labor pledged to provide an extra 200 specialist domestic violence housing places for women and children, as part of an additional $158 million package. My organisation, No to Violence, are pleased to see political leaders take positive steps towards tackling this issue, but any serious plan to tackle domestic violence needs to include additional funding for programs focused on engaging with men who use violence.

Commitments to engaging with men, including additional funding for men’s behaviour-change programs have been absent in these announcements across the political spectrum. As our recent NSW Listening Tour Report demonstrates, this is a serious oversight.

Having travelled across Victoria and NSW in the past few months, No to Violence and our partners are keenly aware of the pressure on frontline service providers and the need to address domestic violence with a wholistic, wrap-around framework. This requires a suite of complementary interventions. Studies have shown that “[men’s behaviour change] programs appear to be more effective the more tightly they are aligned and supported by other parts of the domestic violence and justice intervention systems.”

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Men’s behaviour change work in NSW operates with too few resources and there are too few of them. In the lead up to the election, it is a crucial time for leaders to commit to including it in any serious agenda looking to end domestic violence.

Domestic Violence figures in NSW make for sober reading with Police responding to 400 domestic violence incidents everyday. In 2018, 33 women were murdered by someone known to them. Without a substantial increase in funding to strengthen and expand depleted programs for men’s behaviour change, NSW will continue to experience the highest rates of domestic and domestic violence in the country.

Our report shows that men’s behaviour change programs and related services in NSW are siloed due to reactive processes imposed by insufficient resources. This is compounded by crisis management, long waiting lists and an underfunded workforce. Collaboration between services is not only hindered by time constraints, but by the competitive allocation of funding. Limited resources mean that staff are unable to attend training or participate in much needed local committees and forums that could increase local and regional collaboration. Our report highlights the need to reward collaboration, information and resource-sharing to create a system that supports one another and to focus on shared goals and values. We need to stop seeing domestic violence services as individual and competing interventions.

We must identify where police, courts, primary prevention campaigns, refuges, helplines, healthcare, addiction services and men’s behaviour change work intersect and where these is room to facilitate the most effective change. A lack of adequate support can lead to serious risk-assessment issues. Communication gaps between services, without the resources to implement processes to bridge those gaps can create dangerous conditions. A participant from our workshop in Albury said:

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“There is no access to perpetrator’s relevant information to fully assess the risk of violence e.g. prison release dates, court outcomes, parole conditions and so on.”

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The NSW government has not yet joined Our Watch, the national campaign to change the culture, behaviours and power imbalances that lead to violence against women and their children.… Iit is clear that political leaders are content to favour one intervention while neglecting others. Domestic violence is the number one stretch on police resources in NSW and across Australia. Along with primary prevention campaigns like Our Watch, men’s behaviour change programs are working to bring those numbers down, by tackling recidivism and dealing with the cultural and behavioural roots of the issue. We need political leaders to make a courageous stand for a trauma-informed, comprehensive response to dissect the deep cultural and complex roots of this issue. NSW Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence and Sexual Assault, Pru Goward advised the next Minister in a Sydney Morning Herald article from January “We have sometimes not looked hard enough at the various drivers and that to me is the next stage. The next minister really has to take that very seriously.”

No one intervention is a panacea, but there is a strong evidence-base that working within a well aligned system, men’s behaviour- change programs haves significant outcomes. Australian studies from ANROWS will be released this year, but findings from Respect UK’s landmark Mirabel project indicate that some of the most serious impacts of domestic violence – hospitalisation, physical and sexual violence – can significantly decrease due to these interventions.

Domestic violence needs to be approached by political leaders in a bi-partisan evidence-based way, with the safety of women and children at its core. This issue is too serious for political leaders to abandon evidence-based approaches, or to form policies and funding allocations according to politics or ideology. Sadly, for too many women and children, this is not a matter of politics or ideology, it is matter of life and death.

Jacqui Watts joined NTV in 2015, bringing leadership and change management skills to the organisation with 30 years’ experience from the community and government sectors in both Australia and UK.

Jacqui has been CEO of two peak bodies advocating for Community Housing – one in Scotland and one in Victoria – and a year as Director of Client Services at Anglicare. She has worked in the fields of alcohol and drugs, mental health, disability, social housing and social enterprise.

Men’s Referral Service is available every day on 1300 766 491.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

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