Domestic violence (DV) has significant consequences for victims, including emotional trauma, psychological disorders, physical injuries and mortality. The financial cost of DV in Australia was estimated to be approximately 8.1 billion dollars a year, most costs impacting on victims. The rate of DV in New South Wales (NSW), Australia, is estimated at 3-5% per cent with prevalence among Aboriginal and Torres Strait peoples approximately six times higher. The 2012 Australian Bureau of Statistic’s Personal Safety Survey, found 6% of women reporting some form of interpersonal violence in the previous two years. In 2017 approximately 16% of inmates in correctional facilities in NSW, had a domestic violence conviction and 21% of all serving community-based orders.
Corrective Services New South Wales provides a 20 session (40-50 hour) group Domestic Abuse Program (DAP), to higher risk male offenders, delivered over ten weeks by one male and one female facilitator (either specialist Program Facilitators, Community Corrections Officers, or trained external facilitators). At June 2012, 499 facilitators had been extensively trained; with 3,338 DV offenders enrolled in 269 DAP programs, provided from 33 Community Offender Services Offices. In 2015-16, 1,201 men had attended a domestic abuse program in custody.
The DAP utilises several theoretical approaches: risk, needs and responsivity, CBT principles; Duluth principles. Five modules employ empirically supported interventions: first, identifying abuse contains psycho-educational material targeting knowledge of abuse; CBT techniques challenge antisocial and pro-violent cognitions; second, managing emotions, beliefs and attitudes challenges participants’ cognitions, feelings and actions associated with violent behaviours; third, offence mapping uses behaviour chain analysis to identify offending antecedents, warning signs and high-risk situations; fourth, victim impact uses psycho-educational and Duluth-style material addressing victim empathy and impact; and finally, sexual respect, relationship skills and safety strategies model conflict management, communication skills and dispute resolution techniques. In 2015 a revised/improved EQUIPS DAP was rolled out in NSW.
The research reported in Blatch, O’Sullivan, Delaney, van Doorn and Sweller (2016) determined recidivism outcomes for 953 offending men with domestic violence histories, serving community-based sentences and enrolled in the domestic abuse program, compared to matched control group (N=953).
An intention to treat and pseudo-prospective research design and quasi-experimental methodology, compared recidivism outcomes. The control group was matched using propensity scores. Cox and Poisson regression techniques determined survival time to first reconviction and rates of reconvictions adjusted for time at risk.
The results showed DAP enrolment was significantly associated with improved odds of time to first general reconviction (by 15%) and first violent reconviction (by 27%), compared to controls. Reconviction rates were significantly lower for DAP enrollee (by 15%). Program completion was necessary to achieve significant therapeutic effects; 62% completed the program.
The evaluation suggests the domestic abuse program is an effective intervention to modify criminal behaviours of domestically abusive men; potentially lessening the physical, emotional and financial impacts on victims. A cost benefit analysis showed a net saving of $1, 108 per enrollee to the NSW criminal justice system of courts, community and custodial services, and a saving of $1,820, if the offender completed the DAP.
These are the first peer reviewed evaluations of DAP effectiveness and cost-benefits. The results contribute to evidence-based knowledge of best practice in crime interventions for domestically violent men and provide rigorous methodological templates for other agencies to adopt, who deliver similar community-based therapeutic group interventions in forensic settings; as well as for cost-benefit studies determining potential program investment returns to government justice systems.
By Chris Blatch, M. Psych. (Forensic) MAPS , College of Forensic Psychologists
Chris submitted an abstract entitled ‘Evaluation of an Australian Domestic Abuse Program for offending males’ for the 2015 STOP Domestic Violence Conference.