The Salvos are working with the University of Tasmania to help violent men make a new start, writes Ann Sathasivam.
When like minds focused on pressing social issues undertake an action research project, real benefits can flow back into the community.
This collaborative approach between a team of academics at the University of Tasmania and The Salvation Army in Tasmania has produced research documents, practical tools and resources that have the potential to reshape the future of thousands of families and especially children impacted by family and domestic violence.
Many men who engage in violent behaviour are often totally ignorant of the impact emotionally, psychologically and developmentally this has on their children. Recent research released by Brain Injury Australia highlights disturbing findings from Victorian hospital admissions where the parent was the perpetrator of the injury. Of the 450 cases of hospital admissions over a 10-year period (2006–2016), 43% of the victims were under the age of five, and 69% of victims were under the age of nine.
Overall, during this period, children under the age of 15 represented 31% of the total 16,296 hospital attendances for family violence. A significant portion of these children will acquire some form of brain injury due to trauma. The overwhelming majority of perpetrators of family and domestic violence are male, but women and children have greater vulnerability to brain injury, including the cumulative effects of mild injuries, especially when the brain isn’t allowed sufficient time to repair and recover. For both victims and perpetrators, there is a stigma attached to a suggestion that someone has a brain injury or a disability resulting from family violence.
Men who use violence as a means of coercion and control have not been seen as part of the solution to the dilemma of family and domestic violence in our community. After all, how could the perpetrator of abuse be part of the solution? On the surface it doesn’t make sense. But with education and targeted behaviour change programmes, some men can begin to understand not only the impact that their actions have on their children, but how they now have an opportunity to heal damaged and dysfunctional family relationships.
Unfortunately, for some men, the acquired brain injury they received as a result of frequent and repeated trauma as they were growing up means that their capacity to control challenging behaviours is diminished.
This is a very confronting reality for the community to face, as unaddressed brain injury and the family violence experienced in childhood play a potential role in promoting intergenerational family violence. The effects of acquired brain injury manifest in a range of challenging behaviours such as low thresholds of tolerance of annoying behaviour and situations, or frustration at being unable to comprehend or process concepts, which then turns into destructive and uncontrolled violent behaviour.
The Start Today Again resources are based on the belief that males have a role to play in ending the scourge of family violence in the Australian community. The behavioural change that men undergo assists them to decide that it is better to exchange attempts to control their family through any form of violence and manipulative behaviour, for attempts to build better and supportive relationships with their children and partners (or even ex-partners).
Flexibility is the key, as the ‘toolkit’ has been designed for multiple uses and audiences, including community groups, with a range of training programme options. Permission was given by Sony to use the Paul Kelly song ‘If I Could Start Today Again’, which inspired the project name, as part of the training resources.
The collaborative efforts of Dr Ron Frey, Don McCrae, Dr Romy Winter, Dr Peter Lucas, Professor Ken Walsh and Nell Kuilenburg are to be commended in showcasing innovation in an area of extreme need which continues to wreak havoc and heartbreak in our community. The sheer numbers of family and domestic violence victims presenting at emergency departments of hospitals attest that there is still much work required to address the issue of violence in Australian homes.