In addition to clarifying roles and responsibilities for all parts of the primary prevention system, our consultations revealed areas where key system links need to be strengthened [relates to action 3].
In particular, the following were raised as areas for improvement:
- better engagement of experts representing diverse communities and specialisations (such as women with disabilities, LGBTIQ+ communities, migrant and refugee communities, and the sexual assault sector)
- links between mainstream prevention effort and culturally relevant prevention activity in the Aboriginal community
- links between work occurring in the healthy masculinities space with the broader family violence and prevention of violence against women sector
- links between the family violence prevention and response sectors
- links between Respect Victoria and mainstream systems (such as the business community) at the strategic level.
Improving connections with diverse expertise
Women With Disabilities Victoria, the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health, Rainbow Health Australia and Sexual Assault Services Victoria all raised the need for their expertise around particular groups and/or forms of violence against women to be sought early, to allow for true co-design, and to ensure primary prevention efforts are inclusive. Examples brought to our attention include:
- Women With Disabilities Victoria was asked to be involved in a prevention project by a major sector stakeholder, but the platform being used was not accessible so involvement was limited; they note that government and the agencies it funds need to adhere to their own accessibility guidelines.
- The Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health explained that a lack of cultural diversity within Victorian prevention campaign materials means that migrant and refugee communities will not see themselves in the messaging and will not engage.
- Sexual Assault Services Victoria explained that the specialist sexual assault sector has typically been underutilised in family violence prevention work, particularly given their strong links to schools and long history delivering primary prevention education focused on consent. The specialist sexual assault sector is also often called to schools to provide a trauma-informed response to disclosures of sexual violence arising in the context of the Respectful Relationships initiative.
As the head of policy and programs at Rainbow Health Australia powerfully told us:
The commitment to engaging with community has to be embedded at the policy level or this work will continue to fail.
We suggest that each area of diversity needs to be carefully considered, with input from communities sought to maximise engagement and effectiveness, and that, more broadly, a holistic, intersectional approach to primary prevention is required. A key challenge is that these organisations, while having important expertise, are small and don’t always have the capacity to engage as fully as they would like. Careful planning and consideration are required to ensure these organisations are appropriately engaged but not overwhelmed by government requests.
Better connecting mainstream prevention effort for the Aboriginal community
Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations we spoke to say they have had no involvement in Respectful Relationships in schools. They suggested that a tailored approach was required to ensure effectiveness for Aboriginal students. More broadly, there is an acknowledged need to ‘work across government to ensure programs and initiatives to prevent family violence address racism and discrimination as forms and drivers of family violence against Aboriginal people', but it is unclear how much of this is occurring outside of Aboriginal-led work. These areas are explored in more detail in our forthcoming companion report on Aboriginal-led prevention and early intervention.
Engaging men and boys
Prevention strategies and frameworks acknowledge that effectively preventing family violence and all forms of violence against women requires the engagement of men and boys. The fourth essential action to address the drivers of violence against women in Change the Story is to ‘support men and boys to develop healthy masculinities and positive, supportive male peer relationships’. Our Watch’s evidence review, Men in Focus, goes into further detail by suggesting several considerations for policy makers to strengthen work addressing masculinities as part of broader primary prevention efforts.
The Family Violence Reform Rolling Action Plan 2020–2023 included a commitment to ‘community organisations targeting men and boys delivering grassroots programs that are designed to promote healthier masculinities, gender equality, building relationship skills, and social connections’. Consistent with this, in May 2022, the Victorian Government announced two healthy masculinities programs that are being piloted in selected Respectful Relationships schools:
- The Man Cave is delivering one-day workshops to 12- to 16-year-old male students in 100 schools.
- Jesuit Social Services is piloting its Modelling Respect and Equality program for school staff in up to 100 schools.
Dr Michael Flood from the Queensland University of Technology – an expert in this space – told us of promising work happening to support healthy masculinities. However, it is on a small scale, variable in quality, and sometimes disconnected from primary prevention more broadly. He emphasised the need for government to help:
- lift this work up to become more systemic – ensuring the right strategic direction, workforce capacity and funding are in place to enable the work to be effective
- ensure work to promote healthy masculinities is an integrated part of the primary prevention strategy, rather than being siloed
- engage a range of leaders in healthy masculinities and hold leaders to account for actions that go against gender equality and violence prevention (we note this is part of activating 'private sector, civil society and community leadership’, which Change the Story describes as a required element of an effective prevention infrastructure)
- generate quality standards to ensure programs have a gender transformative approach (oriented towards transforming gendered behaviours, norms and structures), are not doing further harm, and are done in partnership with those working to promote gender equality and prevent violence against women.
Connection between prevention and response sectors
There is no doubt that primary prevention requires a distinct and dedicated focus, but government strategies and plans have consistently communicated the need for the prevention and response sectors to be better linked. For example, the industry plan stated that:
We need to consider stronger links between specialist primary prevention and response sectors, to support mutually reinforcing action to stop family violence and violence against women.
The Free From Violence second action plan explained that:
The prevention system is part of the broader family violence system. This system exists on a continuum from primary prevention to early intervention (secondary prevention or intervening early to prevent recurring violence) and response (tertiary prevention or preventing long-term violence).
Each of these approaches is important, interdependent and needs to reinforce each other. Linking the prevention system with the broader family violence system ensures that those experiencing or using violence can safely access services. Primary prevention supports and complements early intervention and crisis response efforts by reducing pressure on these other parts of the system.
A number of stakeholders reiterated the need for all family violence workforces to have some understanding of the full spectrum. They explained that whenever prevention activity is occurring, disclosures will happen, and prevention specialists need to have a basic understanding of how to initially respond and refer. Some of the Office for Prevention’s existing practices already support this, such as including questions about how organisations will manage disclosures in grant application forms and encouraging organisations to participate in MARAM training, and there is an opportunity to strengthen these efforts in line with the revised prevention capability framework. This is also important for surge capacity in the disaster context; for example, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many prevention practitioners rapidly transitioned into response work due to pressure on response services. Their capacity to assist in this way to support victim survivors is essential, as is protecting the specialist nature of both prevention and response roles.
We also heard (for example, from EDVOS and sexual assault services) that there can be benefits in an organisation doing both prevention and response work (because the prevention work provides a sense of hope for response workers) and that prevention and response practitioners can learn from one another.
Understanding the gendered drivers and reinforcing factors associated with family violence is part of the foundational knowledge required for all professionals who respond to family violence, as reflected in the Responding to Family Violence Capability Framework and the MARAM framework and associated practice guides. Safe and Equal confirmed that having such an understanding is critical to response work while also being able to acknowledge and respond to the individual experiences of violence. Rainbow Health explained that when response workers understand the personal and societal factors contributing to a perpetrator’s use of control and violence, they can use this knowledge to help the victim survivor understand how they have been groomed or controlled. Yet, a Gippsland response organisation we met with noted that some graduates come to them without a foundational understanding of the gendered drivers of violence.
While this issue was primarily raised with us in relation to individual worker capabilities, some stakeholders did raise the need for more strategic links between the prevention and response sectors. For example, they noted that emerging trends in the response space can also help to inform and target prevention efforts. We suggest there is a need to consider both necessary crossover capabilities at the worker level (perhaps through the revision of the prevention and response capability frameworks that is currently underway) and the most useful points of linkage between prevention and response structures at the strategic level.
Connections with mainstream architecture
One of the required elements of prevention infrastructure outlined in Change the Story is ‘private sector, civil society and community leadership’. We did not look closely at this element, and it is arguably the component of system architecture that is least developed; however, we do note that the Supporting Multicultural and Faith Communities to Prevent Family Violence: 2021 Grant Program funded 33 organisations to provide community leadership in preventing family violence.
Change the Story explained that:
Civil society and private organisations – including those that represent specific settings and sectors such as workplaces or sporting codes, and those that represent specific communities – can provide leadership on this issue (including) by supporting and encouraging primary prevention efforts among their sectors, members and networks …
Our discussions with Respect Victoria have highlighted how critical it is to gain primary prevention buy-in at scale in these spheres. For example, while individual businesses might want to take action to prevent family violence, Respect Victoria and other lead prevention organisations have minimal capacity to engage in one-on-one support for such businesses. It makes far more sense for Respect Victoria to link into existing representative and influential bodies in other systems so they can provide prevention leadership within their respective sectors. The framework we suggest in section 1 should help to articulate the sorts of actions needed in these spheres, and an approach to bringing these to fruition.