There is a growing awareness around the world that to prevent family violence we must shift the attitudes and behaviours of those already using, or at risk of using, violence. There has been some progress in this space but there is a long way to go and many opportunities for early intervention are currently being missed.
Two problems we are particularly focused on at Jesuit Social Services at this time are adolescents using violence at home and child sexual abuse. Most recently, we advocated for interventions to address service gaps through submissions to two consultations: the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s (VLRC) consultation on Improving the Response of the Justice System to Sexual Offences; and the Victorian Government’s consultation on its Youth Strategy Discussion Paper.
Our submission to the VLRC recognises child sexual abuse or accessing child exploitation material online is almost exclusively perpetrated by men. We highlight the need for a continuum of responses to sexual offending, including preventative programs and targeted post-sentence/prison support services, as well as carefully implemented restorative justice programs where appropriate.
We recommend trial or expansion of several programs aimed at preventing and addressing sexual offending and use of violence by adolescents, as follows:
- Worried About Sex and Porn Project (WASAPP) – an online help tool for children and young people worried about their sexual thoughts or behaviours.
- Stop it Now! – a phone helpline and website to support adults desist from child sexual abuse and viewing child exploitation material online; and parents, family members, and professionals who encounter child sexual abuse.
- Circles of Support and Accountability (COSAs) – a circle of trained, carefully selected volunteers who help people re-integrate into the community post-prison and desist from offending.
- RESTORE – a pilot program, based at Melbourne’s Children’s Court, trialling restorative approaches to working with young people who perpetrate family violence.
Jesuit Social Services also contributed a submission to a new Victorian Youth Strategy due to be released in late 2021. Our submission argues that in order to achieve the best outcomes for young Victorians, there is a clear need to address the root causes of violence by supporting boys and young men to live respectful, accountable and fulfilling lives, where they can develop loving relationships free from violence.
This argument is informed and supported by our Man Box research and a follow up research project, the Adolescent Man Box, which seek to build understanding about the prevalence of rigid, stereotypical masculine norms and the impact these can have on adolescents, men and the community around them. This research has informed our own practice and is being used to build workforce capacity within other organisations.
Specifically, The Men’s Project at Jesuit Social Services has used the research to develop training to support role models who regularly interact with boys and men, so they can challenge limiting and harmful Man Box stereotypes and promote respect and equality e.g. the Modelling Respect and Equality (MoRE) program, as well as specific interventions to promote positive social change and healthy masculinities, reduce male violence and harmful behaviours, and improve men’s wellbeing and relationships.