More men are seeking help: Evidence must guide our response
Published 21 May, 2020
While we continue to gather evidence about the impacts of COVID-19 on domestic, family and sexual violence in Australia, one trend has emerged clearly: since the beginning of the pandemic, more men have been seeking help in changing their behaviour towards their partners and children.
MensLine has reported a 34 percent increase in callers who reported family violence concerns, and the Men’s Referral Service reportedly saw a similar jump of 37 percent in the last week of April, compared to 2019 calls.
I applaud the sector for working hard to respond to this increased demand. I also recognise that those who work with men to change their behaviour may be, more than ever, looking for the evidence base that points toward the most effective intervention strategies.
It is timely, then, that ANROWS is currently finalising the last publications in our Perpetrator Interventions Research Stream. Securing the safety of women and children is the foundation of this research program: to work towards this goal, it has explored avenues to improve effectiveness in the community sector and in the civil, criminal, child protection and family law systems. We have also been identifying ways to improve responsiveness to the diversity of perpetrators.
The piece below, in this issue of Notepad, explores the key findings that have come from this research program. We have published reports on techniques for engaging men, including the specific dynamics of working with young people and perpetrators from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, refugee and LGBTQ communities. We’ve also investigated all-of-family approaches to work with fathers who use violence, and explored different ways of measuring the effectiveness of interventions.
Will this research have the impact we hope for? We believe that its application will help to drive reductions in DFV re-offending numbers. However, research also tells us that reducing re-offending should not be the only goal for men’s behaviour change programs, and we must avoid relying on recidivism rates alone to measure the effectiveness of interventions. Findings from “Project Mirabal” in the UK have suggested alternative ways of capturing violations and reducing reoffending including comprehensive reporting from the victim’s perspective, perpetrator and practitioner reports of behavioural change, and use of court/police sources to triangulate this information. Crucially, men’s behaviour change programs cannot, alone, be expected to hold men who use violence accountable. They should be considered within the broader context of available tools and systems, and as part of a holistic approach to increasing the safety of women and children.
That primary purpose must always be in our minds: increasing the safety of women and children. One of our most recent reports emphasises the need to prioritise women’s safety in perpetrator interventions, and identifies ways to achieve this through the implementation of effective partner contact strategies. For this to be successful, practical bridges between those working with women and those engaging with men must be built. A Practice Guide, developed as part of the project, suggests that the establishment of communities of practice across agencies and even across jurisdictions could commence immediately.
We look forward to continuing to build and promote the evidence base to support policy and practice related to work with men who use violence. In the meantime, we hope that the recent trend in men seeking help to address concerning attitudes and behaviour grows stronger.
Dr Heather Nancarrow