“What I take is a deep appreciation for every voice in the room today…. It helps hold my passion in some way that there are other people who can genuinely speak with care about the longer-term outcome and vision for women and children. So much on general media is punitive and sexist and racist. Knowing there are other visions and sharing—that is what I leave with today.”
Violence against women is an issue that permeates communities in many insidious ways. It includes family and domestic violence and sexual assault. It crosses socio-economic boundaries in every community and intersects with other complex social issues such as mental health, homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, and youth crime. Violence against women is a community issue, not just a women’s issue. In recent years, there has been growing recognition of the need to engage with perpetrators of violence against women. The thinking is that a proactive approach is necessary, one that goes to the source of the problem—the perpetrators of abuse—and that also involves working with young males in building responsible attitudes.
In the second half of 2013, Reos was engaged by the Department of Social Services of the Commonwealth Government of Australia to design and deliver consulting services to support the development of national perpetrator intervention outcome standards. These outcome standards would provide guidance across Australia to those working with perpetrators of violence against women and with males who are at high risk of using abusive behavior. The project included consulting numerous stakeholders in the context of family and domestic violence and sexual assault.
This work originally emerged from the Australian Government’s National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children 2010 – 2022. The focus was on addressing a key Outcome of the National Plan: “Perpetrators stop their violence and are held accountable.” This Outcome deals with preventing and reducing violence against women through strong laws and programs to help reduce the level of recidivism.
Between September and November 2013, a diverse range of stakeholders across the family and domestic violence system came together as part of the national consultations to inform the development of national outcome standards for perpetrator interventions. The consultations involved Reos Change Lab processes, including action learning and activities that transcended and cross-cut traditional barriers between parties who do not normally collaborate. The activities provided space for participants to explore the potential for creative problem solving and shifts in thinking.
A number of other consultation methods were adopted, including a series of workshops in each of the States and Territories (including regional locations), dialogue interviews with key stakeholders, and an online survey, providing an opportunity for more than 700 stakeholders representing a diverse range of sectors, including both government and non-government organisations, to be engaged. A key feature of the approach was the integration of targeted, culturally specific consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stakeholders.
“It was great to see how our discussions collectively shifted our mindsets around the whole issues—moving from feeling like there is nowhere to go and that resources are so tight and we are all so stretched, to believing that we can together do something about working more effectively with the men.”
“Seeing” the Collective Thinking
The overall purpose of the interviews and workshops was to distill and collate the views from the ground up to “see” the collective thinking of key stakeholders from across the systems that deal with perpetrator intervention. The consultations further enabled the exploration of the breadth of views on the current system, together with the dreams and aspirations of an ideal future.
The feedback from the dialogue interviews, consultation workshops, and online survey was analysed to look for the key themes and insights that emerged from the process as a whole. This analysis informed the thinking in developing a suggested Aspiration and draft set of National Outcome Standards. The analysis supported the promotion of a common understanding of the significance and impact of family and domestic violence and sexual assault and the importance of adopting integrated, coordinated, and systemic interventions. The suggested Outcome Standards were also designed to assist in guiding both government (at all levels) and non-government organisations in their efforts to give meaning to the vision embedded in the Commonwealth National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children.
“I realise more clearly now than I ever have that we can’t do our work on violence until all parties are around the table and we have put aside our biases and are talking in a way that is squarely focused on what we are all ultimately about: Eliminating violence against women and children and working towards a community—and a society—that is safe for all.”
There is no doubt this work has generated enthusiasm and hope for stakeholders to continue to find ways to effectively respond to men who use violence against women and their children. The Department of Social Services acknowledged the significant social capital that emerged from the consultation process, something that went beyond just asking for comment from stakeholders but also engaging them in deeper thinking and helping them to consider generative action.
The work from the Reos consultation process significantly informed the Second Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children 2010-2022, launched on Friday 27 June 2014 by the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.