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Current domestic violence solutions “like treating cancer with panadol”, lawyer says


Australia has a long way to go before solving the problem of domestic violence, Joplin Higgins says.

Following a research project that took her to the USA to explore perpetrators rehabilitation programs, the Hunter-based lawyer has authored a report calling for a change in strategy.

Rehabilitating domestic violence perpetrators: An Australian and international evaluation of men’s behaviour change programs identifies what Ms Higgins says is a stark difference between the quality, intensity, and overall effectiveness of programs operating in Australia, compared to the USA.

She is now calling for a change in engagement strategies and the introduction of long-term behaviour change programs targeting the perpetrators of domestic violence.

According to Ms Higgins, evidence showed Australia had much to learn when compared to domestic violence reduction strategies in place overseas.

“The burden of solving the problem of domestic violence in Australia has been unfairly placed on victims and victims’ services,” she said.

“It’s like treating cancer with Panadol.”

Currently there is minimal engagement with perpetrators, Ms Higgins says. 

“Programs in Australia run on average for 12-18 weeks compared with programs explored in the report that run for over 52 weeks. 

“A few months is clearly not enough time to change, at times, a lifetime of violent and abusive behaviour.

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

Statistics in Australia show that one woman a week dies as a result of domestic violence. 

Further, one in three women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15, and one in five Australian women has experienced sexual violence since that same age.

Men’s Behaviour Change Programs (MBCP), explored in the report, included a year-long engagement working with whole families, helping to keep victims and children visible while perpetrators fulfilled their obligations.

Ms Higgins says she gained valuable insights by travelling to the USA to research MBCP and meet with facilitators operating across the country. 

“Domestic violence has been predominantly viewed as a criminal justice issue when it is clear a multi-agency response is required,” she said.

“MBCP are significantly fragmented, varying from state to state and across service providers.

“Increased funding for MCBP is paramount to ensure vital funds are not taken away from victim services offering immediate safety to women and children.

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

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