The Royal Commission highlighted that there were not enough places in perpetrator intervention programs to cater to all those referred to them.1 It also found insufficient breadth and diversity of perpetrator interventions available in Victoria, noting that referral to a men’s behaviour change program was the most common response, with a lack of programs to cater for different cohorts or for the needs of perpetrators for whom group work is unsuitable.2 We have found that access to perpetrator interventions remains an issue, and while the suite of perpetrator interventions trialled has expanded considerably since the Royal Commission, these are on a relatively small scale.
Availability of perpetrator programs
Current data suggests that the problem of lack of availability and long waitlists continues, with the number of Department of Families, Fairness and Housing–funded program places per year roughly equal to 10 per cent of the total number of recorded family violence perpetrators. According to the latest available Victoria Police dataset, during 2020–21 a total of 58,118 individual perpetrators (includes both male and female) were recorded at family violence incidents. In 2021–22, 4,101 perpetrators were participating in men’s behaviour change programs and 1,998 in case management (making a combined total of 6,099 participantslots being used) (see Figure 7).
When estimating the gap between the level of availability and demand, perpetrator motivation is one factor to consider, with The Orange Door data suggesting that around one-third of perpetrators avoid contact or decline services. Stakeholders point out that this is not surprising considering the nature of this client group, with many perpetrators not accepting responsibility for family violence and believing that the victim survivor is the problem. The Orange Door data also shows a relatively small number of perpetrators on the waitlist for men’s behaviour change programs. Across the state in June 2022, 323 perpetrators were on the waitlist, with an average wait time of 57.7 days (see Figure 8).
The figures above do not include court-mandated perpetrator programs, which are critical to reaching perpetrators who lack the motivation to engage voluntarily with behaviour change programs. We were informed that Specialist Family Violence Court magistrates had made 1,209 mandated counselling orders during the past two years and that 528 perpetrators had so far completed their programs (see Table 1 and Figures 9 and 10).3
Table 1: All Specialist Family Violence Court mandated counselling orders
|Total counselling orders made||558||651|
|Total program completions||113||395|
Source: Data supplied by Magistrates’ Court of Victoria
During 2020–21, there were 31,197 FVIOs made across the state, primarily in mainstream Magistrates’ Courts because only three Specialist Family Violence Courts operated for the whole of the 2020–21 financial year (Ballarat, Moorabbin and Shepparton), with two more (Heidelberg and Frankston) launching in May and June of 2021. A total of 341 mandated counselling orders were made across the three Specialist Family Violence Courts operating throughout 2020–21, representing just over 14 per cent of finalised applications in those courts (2,392). The Magistrates’ Court told us that COVID-19 restrictions significantly reduced the proportion of possible counselling orders because in-person programs were interrupted and providers faced the transition to online groups. One program provider did not offer an online alternative, and not all respondents could attend online groups (which require the participant to have computer access and skills and a stable internet connection in a private space where they can speak freely).
Between 2020–21 and 2021–22, the number of counselling orders made in Specialist Family Violence Courts increased modestly (from 558 to 651), and the number of perpetrators completing their mandated program almost tripled to 395 as pandemic restrictions eased. The Magistrates’ Court stated that they expect a significant rise in the number of counselling orders made in 2022–23 after seven new Specialist Family Violence Courts were established in October 2022, bringing the total to 12. Funding allocated for the Specialist Family Violence Courts’ mandated counselling order program totals $34.5 million from 2019–20 to 2023–2024.
Figures provided to us on the number of places available in Community Correctional Services programs for family violence offenders also suggest that demand outstrips supply. As depicted in Figure 11, for (mainstream) men’s behaviour change group programs, there were more than six times as many perpetrators referred during 2021–22 as those who started a program. For (mainstream) individual case management, only slightly over half of those who were referred ended up participating. For Dardi Munwurro’s (Aboriginal) Men’s Healing and Behaviour Change programs, 76 started the program out of the 169 of those who were referred. For the two mainstream programs, the number of available places is significantly higher than the number of participants who actually took part, suggesting that the case management and group men’s behaviour change programs may have been underutilised. The Department of Justice and Community Safety says that as well as the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on numbers, some of those who were referred may have been assessed as unsuitable for intervention. In 2022–23 the department has $3 million allocated to community programs (including group men’s behaviour change programs, case management and Caring Dads.)
Within prisons in 2021–22, 15 perpetrators took part in a six-week (12-hour total) pilot program called Diffuse, which Corrections Victoria trialled at three sites. The psycho-educational family violence intervention addressed the definition of family violence and explored the elements of healthy relationships. Additionally, 206 prisoners across 11 sites completed the Tuning into Respectful Relationships program, while 15 completed the more targeted ChangeAbout program (for which prisoners are clinically assessed for certain criminogenic factors before being referred to this intervention, which is run by Corrections Victoria’s Forensic Intervention Services).
Across the wider service sector, almost all stakeholders we consulted expressed concern about limited access to perpetrator interventions and long wait times:
As long as we don’t have the resources – and we don’t, across the state – to respond to men’s violence, we’ll keep having to mop up the mess they make. – Service provider
The system has become more sophisticated; we used to do everything ourselves but now we have a whole system to refer people to. But the flip side is that demand for services has escalated as communities realise the prevalence of family violence and the trauma it creates. The demands not just on us but on every service provider are enormous. – Service provider
As we know in regard to people using violence, time is quite crucial in terms of service delivery. Anecdotally, we get an amazing response when delivering a response when within two weeks, compared to after two weeks. When reports come out about a murder-homicide, it makes workers anxious if we’re not able to get to clients in timely manner. – The Salvation Army
One of the things about people who use violence is that they come to the service at a point of crisis – if we wait, the crisis is gone and they lose their motivation to engage. – Primary Care Connect, Shepparton
There is a long wait for men’s behaviour change programs, particularly for voluntary participants. While magistrates may defer a sentence to allow time for respondents to engage in these programs, access delays mean the respondent is not kept in view during this period. – Victoria Legal Aid.
New types of perpetrator interventions
An expanded suite of perpetrator interventions is outlined below.
Men’s case management
Men’s case management is used for a range of purposes and may be complementary to men’s behaviour change programs. For example, case management can keep clients engaged while they are on program waitlists and prepare them to participate in group programs. The one-on-one support provided by case management has a number of benefits, such as allowing a relationship of trust to develop between the facilitator and participants and preparing them for group work, in addition to enabling holistic wraparound service provision.4 These wraparound services can be accessed via referrals or brokerage (for example, to address needs related to accommodation, mental health or alcohol and other drug issues).
For men deemed ineligible for group men’s behaviour change programs, case management allows them to be engaged in an individually tailored family violence intervention. The goal of case management is to stabilise the perpetrator’s situation and reduce the risk to adult and child victim survivors. Support provided online or by phone can also reach people who live in remote or regional areas where services are not readily available. One example that received positive feedback from stakeholders is the Brief Intervention Service, run by the Men’s Referral Service. It provides short, multi-session telephone support for men who use family violence.
Post-group intervention is based on the concept that some men’s behaviour change program participants may benefit from having the option to continue attending groups long term. Family Safety Victoria has funded several post-group services including a pilot post-group in rural Gippsland for men who have previously completed men’s behaviour change programs.
The Drummond Street Services Living Free from Violence program (for women in prison who have used violence) is seeking to incorporate women who have completed the program and have lived experience as co-facilitators for future programs to enhance engagement and participation. Similarly, the Department of Justice and Community Safety is exploring using ‘peer navigators’ to reduce barriers for perpetrators in effectively engaging with the justice system.
Perpetrator accommodation-based interventions
Perpetrator accommodation-based interventions aim to keep victim survivors safe in their homes by providing alternative accommodation for perpetrators who are willing to engage in behaviour change interventions. The Family Safety Victoria–funded Men’s Accommodation and Counselling Service (previously known as the Perpetrator Accommodation and Support Service) is implemented by No to Violence. Under the original pilot program, perpetrators excluded from the home due to family violence could receive up to 14 days of crisis accommodation along with wraparound support to address immediate needs and links to services to address their offending behaviour. Established in September 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, 290 perpetrators had been accommodated by June 2021. Referrals to the program were lower than expected, with possible reasons including a lack of awareness across the service system regarding the pilot, and perpetrators being reluctant to engage due to the stigma of using a family violence service and/or unwillingness to participate in counselling.5
An independent external evaluation found that perpetrator engagement in the crisis accommodation and counselling program ‘suggests an increased likelihood that [affected family members] may have experienced increased levels of stability and safety during the high-risk period immediately following the perpetrator’s legal exclusion from the family home. PASS has supported clients to understand their exclusion from the home and reduce breaches of FVSN and FVIO conditions, thereby contributing to improved [family member] safety.’6
Following the evaluation, the program was extended, and men who are assessed as eligible and appropriate, including by agreeing to participate in family violence counselling, are now offered up to 30 days of crisis accommodation.
A new pilot, the Medium-term Perpetrator Accommodation Service (MPAS) is also now underway and being evaluated. Perpetrators can receive up to six months of accommodation support on the condition that they stay engaged with a family violence service. MPAS is being piloted in partnership with local housing providers and is being run by three perpetrator case management providers (in Central Highlands, Loddon and North East Melbourne) and two Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (in North East Melbourne, Hume Moreland and Inner Gippsland).7 The program also includes a family safety contact response, which involves support to affected family members, including children. This may require working closely with child protection and/or family services in developing safety plans.8
The initial phase of the MPAS evaluation found that the program was supporting people using violence to change their behaviour by providing a holistic and wraparound service, and that there was a high level of engagement with victim-survivors through family safety contact workers. The evaluation found that family violence service providers and housing providers were well-connected to The Orange Door and community services for other support needs. It also highlighted some barriers to implementation amid a tight housing market and clients’ limited financial circumstances. Although most implementation plans state that accommodation will be provided through ‘head lease’ programs or private rentals, 10 per cent of clients were in crisis accommodation (such as hotels, motels and rooming services). Where a private rental was able to be found, according to the evaluation report, service providers emphasised the importance of providing access to housing exit options, otherwise there was a risk of homelessness for clients, and possibly repeat use of violence.
Caring Dads program
Caring Dads is an internationally recognised family violence behaviour change program that emphasises parenting skills and maintaining a respectful relationship with children’s mother(s) to promote healthy child development. Stakeholders regard the project as a promising entry point for engaging family violence perpetrators who may be more motivated to change for the sake of their children than for their current or former intimate partner.
Cross-sector collaboration with the alcohol and drug treatment sector
The KODY project is an example of an innovative partnership between the alcohol and drug treatment and family violence sectors. An organisation offering drug and alcohol treatment programs in Melbourne, Odyssey House, teamed up with a Caring Dads provider, Kids First Australia. This partnership enabled participants to receive treatment for drug and alcohol abuse at the same time as improving their fathering skills, with practitioners from both sectors coordinating closely on case management. The program takes an all-of-family approach to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children and provides parenting support. Another notable program integrating family violence and alcohol and drug treatment for perpetrators is the U-Turn program run by Taskforce and funded by the Department of Health. According to an evaluation of the 12-week program by Monash University: ‘Informed by [alcohol and other drug] harm minimisation principles, feminist theory and a psychoeducational framework of behaviour change, U-Turn ensures that men are visible and accountable for their actions, that they have access to support, and that women and families are kept safe.’9
Community programs for Aboriginal people
Aboriginal programs tend to focus on cultural healing and connection to the community and culture. We have explored this unique approach and the important work of many Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations in depth in our report ‘Aboriginal-led Primary Prevention and Early Intervention’. We note that one residential Aboriginal men’s healing program (which also provides support as participants transition back to the community) contributed to reducing family violence risk factors such as alcohol and drug abuse and unemployment.10
Community programs for diverse groups
Several programs designed for diverse groups have also been implemented. For example, LGBTIQ+ programs engage participants who may distrust the mainstream service system due to perceptions of discrimination or lack of understanding of the nature of family violence in LGBTIQ+ relationships. As well as often using community languages, programs designed for perpetrators from refugee or migrant backgrounds apply a cultural lens to make mainstream approaches more relevant.
According to an evaluation of community-based perpetrator intervention trials, programs for diverse groups (including refugees and migrants, LGBTIQ+ people who use family violence, women who use family violence and perpetrators with a cognitive impairment) ‘are contributing to a greater level of risk management of people who use violence, particularly those with complex needs. By engaging people who use violence who were previously not accessing services, these programs are “keeping them in view”, which enables providers to better identify and manage risk.’11
Programs for women who use force
Run by Baptcare and Berry Street, Positive Shift emphasises accountability for using force while also being sensitive to women’s experiences as a victim of intimate partner violence. Family Safety Victoria told us that while the Positive Shift intervention was originally funded under the perpetrator trials, further discussion is required for understanding who this group of women are and whether it is appropriate to label them as perpetrators. As explored in our report, ‘Accurate Identification of the Predominant Aggressor’,12 a victim survivor who, through an act of self-defence or violent resistance, commits a crime may be inaccurately labelled a family violence perpetrator, at least at the time of the incident. Being able to separate such an act from a pattern of abuse requires a nuanced understanding of the dynamics of family violence and the difference between men’s and women’s use of violence. The MARAM Framework is clear that women ‘tend to use force to gain short-term control over threatening situations, rather than using already held power to dominate or control their partner’. This motivation is ‘distinctly different from men’s use of violence, which is characterised by a pattern of coercive, controlling and violent behaviour’.13
Investment in new perpetrator interventions
Although the range of perpetrator interventions on offer has significantly expanded, new types of interventions only attract about a fifth of the funding. More than half of the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing’s perpetrator interventions budget is still going to group men’s behaviour change programs ($19.6 million out of the total 2021–22 budget of $37.1 million) (see Figure 12).
Stakeholders explained that many of the perpetrator interventions for diverse cohorts are still being tested and are yet to be scaled up. ‘We’ve become addicted to pilots,’ said one service provider. The Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre explained:
There is a reluctance to invest because we don’t know what works – evidence has been so slow because a lot of pilots weren’t captured by evaluations … It’s hard when we don’t know which horse to back, but it’s hard to get past that without investing more heavily in certain programs.
Gaps and urgent needs: scaling up perpetrator accommodation and interventions for refugees and migrants
Feedback and anecdotal evidence from our stakeholder consultations indicated two particular gaps where perpetrator responses urgently need to be scaled up: perpetrator accommodation programs and interventions for refugee and migrant communities, particularly in rural areas [relates to action 2]. We note that in addition to these, the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing identified a further gap for adults with an intellectual disability who use violence. Another gap that Family Safety Victoria is working to address is programs for serious-risk perpetrators. Consultation is underway to design a two-year program, and $3.2 million in funding has been allocated.
Victoria Police told us that the most critical period for FVIO breaches is immediately after perpetrators are excluded from the family home, with offenders typically returning within seven days (or even on the same day). They explained that:
We remove them from the property and we set them up to fail. They have nowhere to go as local hotels know them and won’t take them. They end up sleeping in their cars or in a tent city. The victim survivor gets pressure put on her to let them back into the home, and the cycle starts again. We’re not going to change that cycle of violence unless we spend some money on our perpetrators, even if that goes against the grain.
Aboriginal service providers shared that if perpetrators are left homeless, victim survivors are often shamed by the community into allowing them back:
It would be good to have a residential healing room for men that would allow women to stay in their own house. That’s the biggest concern for women, ‘he’s not here and has nowhere to live so he could rock up at any time’.
Other service sector stakeholders also stressed that stabilising the perpetrator’s immediate needs is necessary to bring them to a stage where they can start to address their family violence behaviour. Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre explained:
If perpetrators don’t have secure housing, it’s a barrier to men’s behaviour change participation. There can be a reluctance in investing in work for perpetrators as it is sometimes seen as taking away from victim survivors, but if we’re working with perpetrators, we need to address their needs. While homelessness and housing insecurity are not causal of use of violence, working to meet perpetrators’ basic needs should be seen as part of the effort of driving them to end their use of violence against women.
Providing crisis accommodation to perpetrators can act as a ‘circuit breaker’ during the high-risk period immediately after the perpetrator is excluded from the home. It also provides an entry point for referral to family violence services, in addition to drug and alcohol, mental health and other services if needed. Medium-term accommodation can provide the opportunity for more sustained interventions to improve perpetrator accountability, and stakeholders were clear that the existing perpetrator accommodation programs need to be scaled up as soon as possible to meet the level of need.
Refugee and migrant interventions
According to multicultural service providers, another major service gap in perpetrator interventions is for refugees and migrants. The gap in programs tailored to their needs and experiences is particularly evident in rural areas such as Greater Shepparton, where 2021 census statistics show that 25 per cent of the population was born overseas.14 Local family violence service providers told us that there were many newly arrived refugees and migrants in the area from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and speaking a range of languages, but there was a lack of specialised programs for them. A police officer told us that the need was overwhelming: ‘We haven’t even scratched the surface of family violence in this community.’ Stakeholders strongly urged the expansion of inTouch multicultural perpetrator programming to the Shepparton area.
While the needs in Shepparton appeared particularly acute, a migrant service provider in Melbourne also told us that there is still a major service gap in other areas of the state. New arrivals may not be familiar with the state’s role in regulating family violence, may distrust government services and may not speak English well enough to take part in men’s behaviour change programs. When there is a lack of alternative family violence services available, this can also create inequities in the justice system because perpetrators who cannot prove they have undertaken programs may get worse legal outcomes. Migrant perpetrators excluded from the family home also may not be able to access some basic services as non-citizens.
The Migrant Information Centre (Eastern Melbourne) explained to us that drivers of family violence are often linked to migrant men’s feelings of disempowerment:
Some men feel their status is affected in Australia, as they don’t have power or authority they felt back home. They feel that even their children have more power, as often happens in migrant families because young people learn the language and adapt to local culture quicker. There is a sense of shame; a sense of not being good enough. Some men try to reclaim a sense of power and status by using controlling behaviour within the family.
We heard from both rural and urban multicultural service providers that they see an urgent need to tackle the issue of family violence. However, they struggle to find the time and resources to develop appropriately adapted men’s behaviour change materials and to provide the extra case management support that clients need. Funding and resources are also an issue when it comes to community capacity building and co-design around family violence interventions. Multicultural organisations say these initiatives are particularly important to bridge the divide with communities that are not accessing mainstream services and where family violence is traditionally resolved within community and family settings.
- State of Victoria (2016): Royal Commission into Family Violence: Summary and Recommendations, p. 28.
- Figures provided by the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria.
- Deloitte Access Economics (2019): Evaluation of New Community-Based Perpetrator Interventions and Case Management Trials: Final Evaluation Report, p. 31.
- No to Violence (2021): Evaluation of the Perpetrator Accommodation and Support Service, p. 20.
- Ibid, p. 4.
- Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (2021): Ending Family Violence: Annual Report, p. 67.
- Family Safety Victoria (2021): Medium-term Perpetrator Accommodation Service (MPAS) Program Requirements, p. 6.
- Monash University (2021): Summary Report: Evaluation of the Taskforce Early Intervention for Family Violence Program (U-Turn), p. 2.
- Deloitte Access Economics (2019): Evaluation of New Community-Based Perpetrator Interventions and Case Management Trials: Final Evaluation Report, p. 86.
- Ibid, p. 2.
- Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor (2021): Accurate Identification of the Predominant Aggressor.
- Family Safety Victoria (2021): MARAM Practice Guides, Foundation Knowledge Guide: Guidance for Professionals Working with Child or Adult Victim Survivors, and Adults Using Family Violence, p. 97.
- See: https://www.abs.gov.au/census/find-census-data/quickstats/2021/LGA22830.