On the 6th of December 2017, the VFLPN collaborated with the Domestic Violence Resource Centre (DVRC) to offer law students a full-day interactive workshop focusing on the CRAF Risk Assessment Model. The workshop was geared towards professionals who work with victims of family violence (such as lawyers), teaching skills to allow workers to play a role in the initial risk assessment process. There were 20 participants in attendance at the St Mary’s of the Cross Centre in Fitzroy, comprised of both internal (VFLPN volunteers) and external students (recruited by way of advertising to law schools).
The day's learning outcomes for participants were:
Participants can describe the prevalence of family violence and the impacts on victim/survivors.
Participants will be able to identify family violence indicators and ask questions to determine if risk is present.
Participants will be able to apply the common risk assessment framework to undertake a preliminary family violence risk assessment.
Participants will be equipped to undertake a basic family violence safety plan and refer to appropriate services.
The presenters began by demystifying some of the common beliefs, myths and misconceptions surrounding family violence. To get the discussion going, the presenters invited participants to consider whether poverty, alcohol, mental health issues or gender inequality was the key driver of family violence in Australia. The students correctly identified gender inequality as the predominant factor, cognisant of the fact that family violence is an overwhelmingly gendered crime; 1 in 4 women have experienced violence by an intimate partner.
To further set out the background content, participants then brainstormed and reflected on some commonly held beliefs and community attitudes relating to family violence. Some examples included, “he deserved it” / “why didn’t she leave?” narratives, “he was a good dad” media depictions in fatal cases, notions surrounding “a women’s place”, etc. Although the majority of Australians do not endorse most attitudes supportive of violence, many of the beliefs that inform such attitudes remain embedded in our society and continue to influence social views relating to gender equality, particularly for young people.
Unpacking such attitudes, five key categories of violence-supportive attitudes emerge. These include attitudes that (1) justify violence against women, (2) excuse violence committed by men, (3) trivialise the impact of violence upon victims, (4) minimise the seriousness of the violence and (5) shift blame from the perpetrator to the victim. According to the DVRC, “such views, when expressed by influential individuals or held by a substantial number of people, can create a culture where violence is not clearly condemned and even subtly condoned or encouraged.” The intention of such training is to ultimately challenge and break down such views so as to facilitate greater equality between men and women.
The next part of the workshop defined family violence. Reference was made to the legal definition enshrined in the Family Violence Protection Act (2008) and the different forms of violence, including physical, financial, emotional, spiritual violence, etc. Students were well attuned to the fact that family violence encompasses more than just physical violence.
The speakers emphasised that the defining characteristic which delineates family violence from ordinary relationship disputes is a feeling of fear for safety or wellbeing. Placing the spotlight on the notions of power and control, the students then considered how these concepts can be used as a tactic by perpetrators to create fear for victims. Some of the mechanisms of control include using male privilege, using isolation, emotional abuse, economic abuse, etc. Employing the DAIP wheel of control diagram, the speakers illustrated how the ‘insidious process of domestic abuse … [creates] a very restricted life space’.
The following plenary addressed intersectionality in the context of family violence; explaining how different factors such as race, culture, class, gender, converge to create multifaceted barriers to safety. The students engaged in a group task which involved considering the different barriers to safety for particular groups and associated perpetrator tactics, based on the particular characteristic assigned. This activity produced many insightful thoughts from all involved.
The indicators of family violence were then mapped out. Some indicators include: (*not an exhaustive list)
- physical injuries
- repeated cancellations
- AOD dependency
- suicide attempts
- partner always attends appointments and constantly checks up (text/calls)
Next students were invited to watch a short film to identify the various indictors evident in the survivors’ narratives. Students also observed the line of questioning employed by workers canvassing the topic of family violence. The presenters then offered responses and template questions to support individuals making disclosures of family violence, to ensure that survivors are not judged and provided a safe environment to constructively divulge their experiences. Pivotally, the presenters stressed the importance of asking direct questions; to increase safety, help overcome barriers to disclosing and to reduce shame. From here, participants engaged in number of group role play scenarios, putting into practice the skills they had just learnt.
The second half of the day-long training turned to the CRAF module itself. The module is a family violence risk assessment too which is part of a systematic process of evaluating the likelihood of harm, serious injury and lethality as a result of family violence. It identifies three key elements of risk assessment, firstly being the victim’s assessment of risk, secondly evidence based risk factors and thirdly professional judgement. Together these elements inform the level of risk that a woman may face.
After the model was mapped out, students engaged in an activity which required them to identify evidence-based risk factors and ‘red flags’ (being factors which may indicate an increased risk of the victim being killed or almost killed) in a series of fictional scenarios, using the ‘aide memoire’, a prompt guide to be used as a reference tool when completing an initial risk assessment with a client. As flagged by the DVRC presenters, “the aide memoire should be used in a conversation, not as a tick-the-box assessment tool. The questions should not be used to collect data. Instead, they should be used as a memory jogger to prompt the assessor about information that needs to be collected, and to flag information that should be followed up at a later stage if appropriate.”
The most notable ‘red flag’ factors giving rise to increased risk of violence were outlined, including pregnancy, recent separation and an escalation in frequency and/or severity of violence. The presenters then set out a series of questions directing how to ask about risk factors in a sensitive but informative and revealing way. Phrasing is important when it comes to the ‘tricky questions’, thus it is imperative that individuals working with victims of family violence pitch the right words in a way that validates their experience and avoids re-traumatisation. Once again, students participated in further role play to consolidate the new knowledge.
Finally, students were introduced to the basics of safety planning by considering the following questions:
1. Who would she contact?
2. Where would she go?
3. How would she get there?
4. What would she need?
5. When would she go?
6. TECH Safety
The above questions provide a skeleton for working with women to develop a plan to facilitate their safe removal from a dangerous, violent environment and to get the conversation started. Together, students drafted a mock safety plan according to the fictional needs of the client. As a final step, referral pathways were discussed, highlighting the need for integrated, multi-layered care in order to address all the issues at play in any given situation.
Overall, students were receptive to the day’s training and gained a lot of practical knowledge which they can employ in future practice. As summarised by one attendee:
“I really saw the value in what was covered, and learnt a great deal which I'm sure will come in handy throughout my professional career. One personal thing that I took from today is that, without a doubt, there is a need for young men (and prospective lawyers) like myself to take an active role in addressing and speaking up on family violence and the many risk factors associated, as I believe it is an important part of breaking down the systemic inequality that was discussed today. I'll be recommending the training to others.”
– Ben Hall, VFLPN Kiosk Attendant.