Engaging Men Who Are Violent

Filed in Recent News by May 18, 2017

EVERY month dozens of people from all walks of life in our community present in court to seek protection from or face justice for, family violence and it is only the tip of the problem which happens behind so many closed doors.

Focus in Australia is currently on the victims of family violence, as it should be, but until we begin to help the men who commit violence to change, the problem of domestic violence will remain, said Joplin Higgins.

Joplin Higgins is a local solicitor, director of Joplin Lawyers and is a passionate advocate for addressing family violence.


Ms Higgins said rehabilitation courses for men who commit family violence should be part of our court framework.

Last year Ms Higgins was one of ten people in Australia to receive a Westpac Social Change Fellowship which she used to travel to America and study programs which rehabilitate the perpetrators of family violence.

She observed one program achieved an 80 percent success rate of men who did not reoffend within a five year period and she would like Australian men to be able to access these programs.

“If we don’t engage the perpetrator we will never end domestic violence, it doesn’t matter how much money we pour into victim services,” Ms Higgins said.

“If we can rehabilitate one man, we can save a lifetime of women and children from family violence, because it is cyclical, because one partner may leave, but they always go on to another one,” she said.

“When I say programs, I don’t mean anger management, that’s not a perpetrator’s program,” she said.

“A lot of the courses in America are looking at the childhood trauma the perpetrator was subjected to and what they are saying is that most perpetrators there is normally an underlying reason that there was emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, drugs and alcohol issues, mental health issues,” Joplin Higgins said.

Evidence shows that the longer the program the more successful the outcomes.

Some courses in America run for 32 or 52 weeks, but courses in Australia only run for 16 weeks and are usually confined to urban areas.

Engaging violent men is the only way to break the cycle of family violence said Joplin Higgins.

Engaging violent men is the only way to break the cycle of family violence said Joplin Higgins.

“Last year New South Wales Police were saying they were going to do a six week course and it would do nothing, it is a waste of tax payers money, we need to putting our resources into something that works; America has programs that work and we should be using them, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel here, there is evidence based research that tells you what works and what doesn’t work,” she said.

“There are about 32 steps in some of the American programs with different ways of making the perpetrator accountable and making them be empathetic to their partners and understand the violence they are perpetrating in the home and change their mindset on how they think about women, gender and their role within the family,” she said.

“There can be perpetrator one on one sessions, but they have found that group sessions are more powerful and more successful because you have some perpetrators that have a light bulb moment earlier than other perpetrators and they find that if they have some leaders within the group they self-regulate within the group and that is when you know you have success in your program,” Joplin Higgins said.

In Australia there is a Magistrates’ Early Referral Into Treatment (MERIT) program which is designed for people with substance abuse to work towards rehabilitation and a Traffic Offenders Program, but there is nothing for family violence.

“In America some of these programs are court mandated; the attitude there is if you don’t want to do the course, if you don’t want to take accountability for what you’ve done and the trauma you’ve created in your family then go to gaol, it’s one or the other you can’t have it both ways,” said Ms Higgins.

“Even when someone finishes a 32 week or 52 week course, that doesn’t mean the facilitator is going to sign off on it, if they are not accountable and have not met the milestones within the program, they don’t get signed off, so they have to keep going back,” she said.

“We need to incorporate these programs into our criminal judicial system and our family judicial system,” Joplin Higgins said.

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