A multi-faceted approach is needed that engages with the concrete needs and circumstances of the perpetrator in order to build their accountability for their choices to use violence, while mitigating the risks of further harm. The approach taken here is premised on the value of a holistic, human-centric approach that is responsive to the needs of specific perpetrators in their own circumstances that will enhance their accountability and improve the well-being and safety of victim-survivors. There are strong grounds for adopting this approach based on wider experience of effective public policy, and social policy in particular. The system must act quickly to deter further violence and build perpetrators’ sense of accountability.
Perpetrators must be seen as unique individuals with diverse characteristics and numerous factors exacerbating their choices to use violence. Their circumstances (and those of their victim and family) need to be quickly assessed by a range of relevant stakeholders – justice workers, service providers, social workers, community representatives – to understand their needs.
The perpetrator might need help to navigate a complex legal and service system. A key barrier, however, is that many perpetrators are unwilling to accept their wrongdoing, and, before a conviction, authorities have limited means to compel them to engage in programs. The system needs to find ways to motivate perpetrators to seek help. A system designed and delivered with the community in which a perpetrator lives would likely help. Leveraging other factors, especially the perpetrator’s desire to be a better parent, can be effective.
Any effective response to individual perpetrators, including by recognising their familial and social context, would benefit from the empowerment of those practitioners and community representatives who engage directly with perpetrators and can best understand their needs and tailor responses to those needs in a manner that will enhance accountability. System-level investments should therefore be especially alert to the opportunities of harnessing the capabilities and relational judgements of social workers and community representatives as they engage with perpetrators and those affected by their behaviour.
A multi-faceted response based on need
Our findings can be summarised under five key considerations for designing programs to reduce reoffending in the immediate post-offence period:
Provide a range of wraparound services, including accommodation support and general human services, so that responses can be tailored to the specific needs of the perpetrator to enhance their accountability.
Empower those with an understanding of an individual perpetrator’s needs – especially social workers and community representatives – to do as much of that tailoring as possible.
Support perpetrators to navigate complex service systems, and harness their motivation to seek help and change behaviour.
Connect services for victim-survivors, as well as other services specifically for children, to perpetrator interventions.
Monitor examples of focused deterrence programs, as they mature, to assess if these are appropriate for the NSW context.
The services and programs
Given the intertwined challenges of perpetrators needing bespoke responses, practitioners needing flexibility to deliver tailored services, and the extensive waitlists and delays in accessing such programs, developing interim or bridging programs that can immediately accommodate new perpetrators would likely be beneficial.
If perpetrators pose a higher risk for reoffending, monitoring or deterrence programs might help by consistently reinforcing their accountability and reminding them of the consequences of further violence.
Accommodation support for perpetrators can help physically separate perpetrators from victim-survivors, while also providing an environment conducive to wraparound services.
Men’s behaviour change programs – or alternatives such as individual counselling – could play a constructive role in the immediate post-offence period. However, there is a lack of robust evidence that such programs can change behaviour in the short term to deter further violence. These activities could be adapted and leveraged during the immediate post-offence period to achieve short-term harm reduction and hold perpetrators to account as part of a broader strategy.
Given that many perpetrators have comorbidities that influence their violent behaviour, general human services (social assistance services) – like drug and/or alcohol therapy or mental health support – can help alleviate those stressors.
Services for victim-survivors (including children) and child services need to be connected into these perpetrator interventions, to help ensure their interests are reflected and the perpetrator is kept in view.
Towards better outcomes
There is no response that can guarantee that any one perpetrator will not reoffend. A system that quickly, meaningfully, and holistically builds the perpetrator’s sense of accountability and that addresses the factors that exacerbate their choice to use violence will, however, give victim-survivors a better chance of living free of further violence before perpetrators go to trial.
Going forward, it will be important to remain attentive to the particular circumstances on the ground, craft programs in that light, explore new approaches, rigorously monitor results, and iterate and scale up investments based on what is being learnt.