The Australian National Research Agenda
to End Violence Against Women and Children
What are the research priorities?
The co-design workshops identified nine priority areas of research that have been organised under three topics (systems and society; populations in focus; types and patterns of violence). Each priority is summarised below. Further suggestions for research are set out in detail in the full ANRA report (in press).
Research that encourages societal level change
can help to address the structural inequalities
that can enable violence to flourish.
Systems and society
There is a need for more research that focuses on addressing violence at the societal and system levels. Research that encourages societal-level change can help to address the structural inequalities that can enable violence to flourish (primary prevention), and research at the system level helps create systems that more effectively stop the recurrence of violence (tertiary prevention, which can also be understood as early intervention and response). As the National Plan notes, “Effective prevention requires integrated and cohesive work that builds mutually reinforcing action at all levels”.
Priority: Structural inequities
Within Australia’s population, there are identifiable groups that experience better and worse education and health service, have more or less control of assets and property, and experience lower or higher rates of violence, poverty and incarceration. Culturally and racially marginalised (CARM) groups include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and migrants1 and refugees. Other groups at risk of marginalisation are LGBTQI+ people, children and young people, people with disability, and older people.
People who are also at risk of marginalisation include people with complex trauma, people with alcohol and other drug issues, people experiencing homelessness and/or poverty and sex workers. These disparities enable the perpetration of DFSV. They must be addressed systemically, as the replication and perpetuation of disadvantage and discrimination is a product of our social norms and values as expressed (often unintentionally) through our policies, structures and institutions.
Specifically, the ANRA calls for more research that:
- identifies specific government policies that can prevent people at risk of marginalisation from experiencing DFSV, by delivering improved health, social and economic benefits
- addresses structural inequities within mainstream services that impact people at risk of marginalisation.
The priority of addressing structural inequities is important because mainstream policies and services are rarely developed with diverse populations in mind. Any changes to improve access and appropriateness are often retrofitted, if made at all. The result is that certain populations continue to be excluded, and unable to access core services. Rather than focusing on individuals through the lens of a broader socio-ecological model – which inadvertently places the blame for marginalisation on population groups – the focus for DFSV research needs to be on addressing the structural inequities within services and systems that perpetuate these disparities.
Mainstream services are broader than publicly funded services. The role of employers and industry is also key to creating cultures that reject discrimination and prevent harassment in the workplace through implementing polices that promote structural equity, such as equal pay for women. There is a need to evaluate the effectiveness of workplace policies and processes that aim to prevent violence and harassment to ensure that all employees feel valued, safe and supported.
1. Refers to people who have moved to Australia temporarily or permanently, as well as second and third-generation migrants. While the ANRA has used the term “migrant” to cover all kinds of migration experiences, researchers should not treat migrant peoples as a homogenous group.
Priority: Gender relations, gender norms and attitudes
This research priority is important because gender inequality is both a driver and a consequence of men’s violence against women. Harmful norms about masculinity legitimise men’s use of violence, dominance and control, and mandate heteronormativity and emotional repression. This is of particular concern now as increasing numbers of boys and young men are drawn into online “manosphere” communities that popularise contempt for, and disrespect of, women and promote harmful norms about masculinity like never showing “weakness”.
We need more research on what works: for example, how best to work with boys and men from a variety of demographic and socio-economic backgrounds to address the use of controlling and abusive behaviours by some men and boys and to increase understanding about how to have healthy and respectful relationships. Research should focus on evaluating existing programs, as well as establishing new methods of engaging boys and men. More local research is also needed on the factors driving and sustaining backlash to gender equality, the influence and popularity of the manosphere in Australia, and how to counteract it.
Priority: Trauma and DFSV-informed, victim-centred systems
To achieve and support the cultural change needed to address DFSV, our response systems must be transformed. There is a need to identify the specific changes to policies, processes and competencies required to make DFSV services1 like police, courts, child protection, housing, as well as frontline DFSV workers, trauma and DFSV-informed2 and victim-centred3. These systems must be places where victims are safe, not places that replicate and enforce patriarchy, mistrust of women and victim blaming.
All too commonly, victim-survivors are being misidentified as the predominant aggressor of DFV. There is an urgent need to reduce the misidentification of the predominant aggressor of DFV and its devastating impacts. We need better data on the extent of misidentification, including the characteristics of those most affected. The data will help to identify potential biases and other factors that are influencing this practice.
1. Any agencies who work directly with victim-survivors and people who use DFSV in identifying and/or responding to, and/or recovering from gender-based violence.
2. Trauma and DFSV-informed provides a safe, collaborative and empowering environment that reduces feelings of shame as well as understanding the dynamics and impacts of DFSV, especially those of coercive controlling behaviours, and holding people who use DFSV accountable.
3. The UN defines a victim-centred approach as putting “the rights and dignity of victims, including their well-being and safety, at the forefront of all efforts to prevent and respond… It requires the empathetic, individualized, holistic delivery of continuous and reliable services in a non-judgmental and non-discriminatory manner.” (United Nations)
Populations in focus
Addressing structural inequities in the topic of systems and society is intended to amplify the focus on meeting the needs of people at risk of marginalisation, including migrants and refugees, the LGBTQI+ community, people with a disability, young people and older people. While the ANRA encourages research with each of these populations, there is a need to focus in particular on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, children and young people and people who use DFSV.
Priority: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience high rates of DFSV, and we all must work together to meet Target 13 in Closing the Gap. While ANROWS recognises and fully supports the development of a separate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led research agenda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives are also prioritised in the ANRA.
During the ANRA co-design process, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants said they wanted more research on effective, respectful and culturally sensitive policing of DFSV and the problem of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women being misidentified as predominant aggressors. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants also identified the need for more robust data and research on domestic and family violence as a key driver of child removal. Indigenous healing and recovery models, for both victims and perpetrators, need greater investment, as do methods for including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men as partners in the conversation.
Frustration was expressed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants, that while it is generally accepted that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research ought to be community-led, this is rarely achieved in practice.
Priority: Children and young people
There is a pressing need to trial and evaluate therapeutic and psychosocial interventions that help young victim-survivors to heal and prevent potential re-victimisation and perpetration. Programs should be tailored to children and young people from a variety of demographic and socio-economic backgrounds. Recovery from childhood trauma is key to prevention1 of DFSV, as is nationwide education on safe and respectful relationships, consent, and non-violent behaviour. Combining these approaches could substantially reduce the likelihood of victimisation or perpetration of DFSV in adulthood. Investing in longitudinal studies will provide the evidence base to determine the effectiveness of recovery interventions in preventing further DFSV across the life course.
1. Primary prevention is defined as “stopping violence against women from occurring in the first place by addressing its underlying drivers. This requires changing the social conditions that give rise to this violence; reforming the institutions and systems that excuse, justify or even promote such violence; and shifting the power imbalances and social norms, structures and practices that drive and normalise it” (Our Watch, 2021, p55). Secondary prevention, or early intervention, aims to identify violence against women as early as possible and connect individuals to services.
Priority: People who use DFSV
Pathways into, and out of, perpetration is a critically under-researched area. Filling this gap in knowledge matters, because if we are to reduce the level of DFSV we need to address the determinants of perpetration. As advocated by victim-survivor and co-investigator, Lula Dembele, “Violence is a problem for victims, but it is not a victim’s problem.”
We need more research on the role of systems, institutions and norms in enabling DFSV, as well as the influence of factors such as mental illness, childhood trauma, pornography, substance abuse and problem gambling.
Throughout a person’s life, there are critical intervention points when the opportunity for prevention and behaviour change is greatest. We need to establish what they are, when they occur, how they are experienced by diverse cohorts, and what is effective to divert people away from using abusive behaviours. Knowing the critical intervention points will alert families, communities, services and systems to mobilise support when people need it most.
We also need to better identify pathways out of perpetration. Specifically, there is a need to develop and evaluate behaviour change programs that have a dual focus on accountability and healing: that is, recognising, where applicable, the traumatic life trajectories of people who use DFSV to heal and address the effects of this trauma as part of the process to reduce abusive behaviours.
There is also a need for up-to-date and better use of existing data about the extent of perpetration against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children and the characteristics of those that use DFSV. Further national prevalence data for DFSV towards LGBTQI+ people is also needed. Additionally, we need more knowledge on the use of, and motivations for, DFSV against migrant and refugee women (particularly relating to forced marriage and dowry abuse), women with disability and older women, so we can better identify methods for screening and opportunities for early intervention.
Types and patterns of violence
There are significant research gaps in three areas exploring the patterns and types of violence: sexual violence, coercive control and economic and financial abuse.
The difficult task of identifying coercive control and effectively reducing controlling behaviours requires more sophisticated and evidence-based DFSV service responses. The growing criminalisation of coercive control in Australia has led to a need to better understand the effects of legal reform on victim-survivors.
Priority: Sexual violence
The current adversarial system for prosecuting sexual violence is not victim-centred or trauma-informed and would require extensive changes to become so. More research is required into police competency on sexual violence and the reasons why rates of charging and conviction are so low, as well as why sentences – even for serial and serious offending – are often not custodial. Understanding the influence of community attitudes on jury trials is needed, as well as what education might be required for juries and the judiciary in sexual violence matters. We also need more research into the deterrent effects of sentencing outcomes and whether low conviction rates affect the attitudes and behaviours of people who use sexual violence.
The criminal justice system alone cannot be relied on to address the high levels of sexual violence in Australia. As such, ANROWS encourages researchers to trial and evaluate alternative justice mechanisms, co-designed with victim-survivors, that may better support victim-survivor safety, recovery and sense of justice.
Consent education for school-aged children has been mandated nationally, but we need to evaluate practical education programs and resources that help people of all ages, including young people, negotiate sexual consent and power in their intimate encounters and relationships.
The Respect@Work Inquiry produced important evidence about the prevalence and targets of sexual harassment; however, the motives for sexual harassment are still not well understood. More research is also needed on the factors and systems that enable people to sexually harass others.
Priority: Coercive control
Since the last ANRA, in Australia coercive control has emerged as the predominant lens through which to view DFV. We are due to see the criminalisation of coercive control in some jurisdictions. It is vital that we evaluate this law reform; in the short-term, to identify its impact on victim misidentification, and in the longer term, to establish its impact on prevalence, as well as victim-survivor safety and recovery.
It is also critical to identify and test effective models for responding to people who use coercive controlling behaviours, including whether this behaviour is adequately dealt with in men’s behaviour change programs.
Priority: Economic abuse
The behaviours involved in economic and financial abuse are not clearly defined in research, policy and legislation, nor widely understood by the Australian population. This lack of understanding and clarity can make it difficult to understand the extent of the problem in Australia.
Part of the definitional difficulties can be attributed to the diverse range of behaviours that make up economic and financial abuse. Experiences can include forced debt and/or victim-survivors having their spending controlled, their child support payments restricted, and their employment sabotaged by partners and/or family members.
Evidence is needed on how systems – both public and private – can improve their identification of, and responses to, people who use economic abuse and support for victim-survivors, including what safeguards may be put in place to prevent economic abuse from occurring. Innovative partnerships should be developed and evaluated between governments and the private sector to help build the evidence base and identify potential areas for primary prevention and early intervention.
While the evidence base in Australia is limited, it is clear that a substantial minority of older women experience abuse from adult children. More research is needed on the tactics used to perpetrate financial abuse against older people and how this co-occurs with other forms of abuse, the influence traditional gender roles have on risk of victimisation, and the effects that this abuse can have on an older person’s economic security.
Further research is also needed on prevalence, characteristics and motivations for dowry abuse in Australia. Before this can happen, however, it is important to undertake research with migrant and refugee communities to understand how to collect data safely and appropriately.
How was the ANRA developed?
The ANRA was made to align with the most pressing needs of people impacted by domestic, family and sexual violence through research and co-design.Read more
How can you use the ANRA?
Ideas on how researchers, policymakers, funders, community organisations, service providers and advocates can use the ANRA.Read more
Ways of working
The co-design process highlighted the importance of reflecting on how research is conducted, who is engaged and on drawing from multiple knowledge sources.Read more
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