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OTSW to lead national domestic violence project

In Australia, domestic violence is a serious issue. 2016 data from police services around the country indicate there is a domestic violence incident every two minutes, which equates to 5000 incidents a week and 264,028 incidents a year. Many incidents remain unreported. The overwhelming majority of domestic violence offenders are male, and victims are female.

In Australia, there is a domestic violence incident every two minutes.
In Australia, there is a domestic violence incident every two minutes.

The School of Occupational Therapy and Social Work is conducting critical research into the service systems for domestic violence, from prevention to intervention. The school has been awarded $441,513 Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) to undertake the research.

In a nation-wide collaboration with six key institutions, the research team, led by Professor Donna Chung, will examine the continuum of the service system from primary prevention through to tertiary intervention. The mapping of this continuum will enable greater clarity about the multiple pathways that offer opportunities to respond to perpetrators’ violence and abuse.

Professor Chung said the project will critically examine how responses to perpetrators can be expanded and strengthened. There is currently a considerable discrepancy between the large number of domestic violence perpetrators in the community, and the relatively small numbers who are held accountable and attend interventions. The research aims to identify and expand the ways and means to intervene with perpetrators.

“We’ll be researching where and when offenders first appear in the system. This project will be examining how legislation, services, projects and approaches around the country can be shaped to better identify and respond to domestic violence offenders,” Professor Chung said.

“Where do they come to the attention of these services, what are people doing around that and how can we improve those areas? From this, we can work out what is working well, what’s poor and what’s been overlooked.”

Research Associate, Mr Damian Green, said the team is trying to develop a more sophisticated understanding of perpetrator accountability and responsibility, whilst considering the large diversity of domestic violence perpetrators.

“What does accountability mean on those different levels of intervention? We are trying to make men accountable from more than just a criminal justice perspective. To do so, perpetrators must be held to account in multiple ways, and early intervention and prevention work also needs to be done,” Mr Green said.

“The final component of the project is to develop and test a national minimum data set about domestic violence perpetrator responses. Currently we know very little about how many perpetrators attend, drop out and complete programs. By finding out this information and the characteristics of the men we can improve the targeting of programs and their content,” he said.

Back row: Damian Green, Research Associate, Dr Donna Chung, Research Team Leader, Sarah Anderson, Research Assistant. Front row: Paula Jops, Research Assistant, Grace Coombs, Research Assistant.

In addition to the personal and social costs of domestic violence, the economic cost is significant and impacts many aspects of the community. Policy makers are therefore keen to know what works, what it costs and how much do outlays for interventions ultimately save.

Whilst these questions cannot be easily answered, the research team includes Professor Siobhan Austen from Curtin’s Business School (CBS) to develop and implement a social return on investment methodology for perpetrator interventions. Mr Green said it was one of the first times this methodology had been applied to this context, and the opportunity to partner with CBS offered a good opportunity to lead the way in applying a return on investment methodology to family and domestic violence perpetrator response in Australia.

“There are still some major gaps in Australian data on domestic violence, but it’s also necessary for us to measure the costs of crime in order to inform interventions and policy development,” he said. The Curtin team will be aided by several research partners across a number of jurisdictions, including specialist family and domestic violence services for perpetrators and victims, representatives from courts, and health and human service agencies from the government and not for profit sectors.

Dr Chung said the complexity of the project is challenging but believes the interdisciplinary collaboration of big research institutions will offer a deeper understanding of the type of practice occurring in Australia.

“We have social workers, psychologists, economists, criminologists and lawyers on the project. What you’ve got on the team are people who have a long history of working with victims and perpetrators, and a lot of our past research has provided the foundational knowledge about perpetrators and victims, children and young people, which has been central to understanding the system,” Dr Chung said.

“Our ideas about the system, and what we are going to do in this project, are very much informed by 20 years of research experience. This experience will continually be directing and informing our views of how the system can work more effectively.” You can find more information on the ANROWS project here.

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

Curtin’s ANROWS project partners are the University of NSW, Western Sydney University, RMIT University and Griffith University     

Writer: Sean Harken, Public Relations Intern, School of Occupational Therapy and Social Work.