ANROWS to Fund New Research into the Drivers of Domestic Violence

Audiences are advised that the following article and podcast episode contains discussions of domestic and family violence that might be triggering to some people. If you or a loved one needs help, there are resources available.

The Australian National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) has invested $2 million dollars into research investigating the drivers of domestic violence. The funding, provided by the Australian Government, has been allocated across eight different projects, each looking at areas identified in Australians National Research Agenda 2023 – 2028. Those areas include:

  • Investigating the demographic profiles of people who use domestic and family violence
  • Understanding the risk factors leading to and away from perpetration
  • Enhancing practitioner skills and confidence in perpetration response
  • Developing better-tailored responses for diverse population groups
  • Improving agency processes and data collection practices and fostering improved partnerships with potential funding bodies and new research partners.

CEO of ANROWS, Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine says that there is a need to better understand why people choose to use violence.

“We need to understand this experience from victims and survivors. We need to know what good looks like for them in terms of improving their safety, and we need to be really informed by that, but we can’t lose sight of understanding why people use violence. What is it that makes someone feel that violence is the appropriate or useful response to whatever they’re dealing with? What is it that drives that behaviour?”

“Statistics show that a large number of perpetrators have themselves been victims in the past. We need to start understanding what’s happening for children and for others in their own victimisation that might shape their uses of behaviour in the future.”

“The idea that we start to understand people who use violence is really critical to understanding how we stop it.”

Previous research from ANROWS has looked at national community attitudes towards violence against women. While a majority of Australians agreed that violence was a problem, many didn’t believe that it was a problem in their community. Many respondents also didn’t understand that domestic violence was predominately perpetrated by men against women, with 41% believing that domestic violence was equally committed by men and women.

Violence isn’t always physical. Though instances of physical domestic and family violence are the easiest to spot, other forms such as emotional abuse or financial control aren’t always recognised as forms of violence. Violent or threatening behaviour was identified as domestic violence by a majority of Australians in the national community attitudes survey, but coercive control was frequently less likely to be recognised.

Dr Boyd-Caine notes while physical violence is more prevalent, coercive control is often an underlying dynamic that is present.

“When we’re talking about domestic and family violence, we’re seeing that physical violence is really prevalent in the experience of family violence. But there’s also a lot of non-physical violence that occurs. So that might be emotional abuse, it might be manipulation, it might be controlling behaviours. We often call that coercive control.”

“It’s abuse that is about limiting someone’s access to their friends or their other relatives, their ability to leave the home environment, their ability to be financially independeant by going to work. And so you start to see a whole range of behaviours in this non-physical environment that are also very present in the context of domestic and family violence.”

An estimated 11.3% of all Australian adults have experienced domestic and family violence at the hands of a partner, with women more likely to experience violence, predominately at the hands of men. So why then, is it so important to understand why people use violence in the home?

12% of adults had witnessed partner violence against their mothers when they were children. With no available statistics on the rate of perpetration, this lack of data means that early intervention points could be easily missed.

Dr Boyd-Caine, says that understanding when and how violence begins in the home is the key to figuring out how to stop it.

“Let’s think about what happens for a child who grows up in a family where violence is the way people relate to each other, who learns that that’s how you relate to your partner, or to your kids, and starts using that violence on their siblings, or on their mum, who goes out of the home and into their own relationships, and what they know is how to be violent.”

“What they don’t know is how to deal with the trauma of their own upbringing, or the aggression that fuels their violence. Locking that person up doesn’t actually deal with any of those issues that lie beyond the violence, and so understanding what drives violence is really critical in how effective we can be in stopping it.”

“It’s not a black and white picture of who experiences violence and who perpetrates it. The evidence is really clear that lots of people who use violence have grown up in violence homes themselves, have experienced violence in their past. So we have to find ways to identify that and to help them not use violence, help them to use other strategies to manage their emotions and their behaviour. And so it’s really core to the effectiveness in terms of keeping women and children safe.”

Though the results of this research may not be fully realised for three to four years, it’s valuable evidence needed in coming up with long-term solutions for an ongoing problem. Dr Boyd-Caine understanding the urgency behind the need, but research takes time.

“We recognise that people are losing their lives. People are living with violence now. But this is a problem that Australia has grappled with for decades, even just to name, even just to recognise.”

“In three to four years time, we’re doing to have some really sharp, really new insights about what is needed that can shape the next wave of response and the work ahead to continue to improve the safety for women and children in the context of domestic and family violence.”

Previous research reports and publications from ANROWS are publicly available on their website.

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If you or someone you know needs help:

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare List of Support Services

1800 RESPECT – 1800 737 732

The national sexual assault, domestic and family violence information and support line, 24 hours.

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TTY/Voice Calls – phone 133 677
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Blue Knot Foundation (formerly Adults Surviving Child Abuse) – 1300 657 380 Provides professional phone counselling, information and support for adult survivors of child abuse with referral database of experienced professionals and agencies, 9am-5pm EST, 7 days.

Better To Know AMS – Local Aboriginal medical and other heath service details Relationships Australia – Online counselling with a professional counsellor using a confidential, text-based chat message service.

Relationships Australia – Online counselling with a professional counsellor using a confidential, text-based chat message service.