Reaction to the Mirabal research from Australia
Rodney Vlais | No To Violence Manager
No To Violence & Men’s Referral Service @NTVVic
Across Australia, there are hundreds of passionate practitioners, program coordinators and activists working in DV perpetrator programs towards the safety, human rights and liberation of women and children affected by men’s violence. I wish I could say thousands, and of course if I were to broaden this to all who are involved in the struggle to end men’s violence against women, it would be tens of thousands. But in the specific work of DV perpetrator programs, it’s really a very small sector.
It makes sense then to look beyond our borders, to share ideas, innovations, narratives and responses to shifting environments with our sister and brother practitioners and activists in other parts of the world. It is even more crucial that we learn from Indigenous and First Nation struggles towards ending violence in the context of colonisation and occupation of their lands, not only on our continent, but everywhere that Indigenous sovereignty and spirit-land-being is denied.
The organisation in Australia to which I belong, No To Violence, has a role in supporting safe and potentially effective practice in DV perpetrator program work, in similar ways to UK Respect. We are also slowly evolving into an incubator of activist endeavours focusing on structural and institutional maintainers of gender-based privilege and oppression, informed by intersectionality analyses. The DV perpetrator program field faces a number of challenges and opportunities in Australia, in an era of neoconservative government commissioning and contractualism, and given our continuously evolving awareness and expectations of what is required to do this work well http://ntv.org.au/resources .
Over the past five years, we have often looked to UK Respect for inspiration. While there might be a ‘grass is greener over there’ element to this, the UK Respect Accreditation process is a crucial model for us to highlight concerning the need for a national program accreditation system in Australia. It is a world leading accreditation process, based on a strong accreditation standard emphasising sustainable organisational capacity to facilitate safe and effective practice, deep reflective practice processes, and significant resources and assistance provided to program providers to become accreditation ready. We know of no other accreditation or auditing process, specific to DV perpetrator programs, that has this depth and care given to the process.
Project Mirabal is a potential ‘game shifter’ for us. Not only because of the promising results. But even more so, because of the conceptual clarity, feminist research methods, and grounding in a human rights analysis of what women and their children want and need to reclaim their lives from men’s coercive control. The positive empowerment approach to the project’s engagement with ethics, the development of outcome measures through the initial qualitative research phase, and the fundamental question of whether, and how, DV perpetrator programs contribute to existing integrated response systems, all helps to position DV perpetrator work away from stand-alone interventions and towards becoming ‘weaved in’ threads of coordinated agency and community responses that ally with victim-survivor struggles for freedom and dignity. The final report makes essential reading for all practitioners, coordinators and commissioners, not only because of the many policy and practice implications arising from the findings, but as a grounding reminder of what this work really is about (not that any of us can or should claim this as a singular truth).
No To Violence concurs with Liz Kelly’s and Nicole Westmarland’s view that this is the start of a new and third generation of DV perpetrator program outcome research. In the short space of two weeks since the report has been launched, I have had numerous conversations with journalists, government senior policy workers and Magistrates about the research findings. The final report has been widely circulated across many of the circles and networks ‘that matter’. It is not only helping to inject new confidence about the importance of investing in this work, but also NTV’s efforts to change the narrative … away from seeing programs as a fixed intervention that we ‘put men through’ and hope to see them ‘changed’ out the other end … and towards them sensitively and skilfully contributing in myriad ways to service system and community responses that support women’s and children’s struggles for safety, dignity and space for action in their lives.
I have no doubt that Project Mirabal will become as equally vital in the course of time as the pivotal work 10-15 years ago by Ed Gondolf and his team across the Atlantic. We feel so much gratitude towards Respect, the Critical Investigators and their teams, the project’s funders, program coordinators and all the women and children who participated in the research. With the Australian government soon to invest significant funds in DV perpetrator program outcome research in Australia, Project Mirabal will hopefully (fingers crossed) set new benchmarks for how this money should be spent.
We also in Australia look towards the European Work With Perpetrators network with much interest. My conversations with Neil Blacklock have emphasised to me the considerable diversity in contexts and environments facing this work across Europe. Thangam Debbonaire’s paper on responding to diverse ethnic communities is reminding us of the plurality of men’s cultural identities and narratives, and what can be left behind if as practitioners we focus on narrow, singular views of culture (Debbonaire, 2015). The research and outcome measurement papers arising through the WWP working groups are producing much food for thought, and again, very timely given the forthcoming national outcome research.
Living in Australia, and ‘witnessing’ with disgust the cruelty and psychological (if not physical) brutality of current and former national governments towards asylum seekers escaping persecution and terror, many of us in progressive social movements are all too aware of how national borders can be used to strengthen intersecting sites of privilege, and to detract focus from dissenting struggles against this privilege. While our work is intensely local, and often pressured in the context of substantially insignificant funding, it’s so emboldening to know that this is also a global struggle. Solidarity knows no borders.