Yet another story of an Australian government selling out men….

The NSW Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, Pru Goward, was awarded major brownie points last June when she announced Australia’s first funding for services for male victims of domestic violence. But now the NSW government has announced they have awarded a major contract for these services to a notoriously anti-male organisation MRS which long held the view there were no male DV victims.

The really amazing thing is the government is now boasting they have put this group in charge because of their skill in determining how many alleged victims are actually perpetrators!

So vulnerable men seeking help are to be put through a hostile screening process which assumes many of them are not victims. Naturally we are expected to believe all women when they allege they are victims of violence, even though many are seeking AVOs for tactical purposes in family law disputes. And 40 years of international research shows it is rare that family violence doesn’t involve both partners.

This latest move by the NSW government shows the grip the anti-male domestic violence industry has on this country. Our governments don’t even pretend to be fair to men.  Read my story – the-fox-now-guards-the-hen-house – just published in Spectator Australia.

For those who would like to follow up on this story, I thought it might be useful to post some of the questions I put to the NSW Department of Justice and the responses.

Was the frontline provider for male victims put out to open tender? Could you please provide details of when was this done and which other providers applied?

Response from Justice Dept: MRS was contracted following a rigorous and extensive procurement process. Victims Services identified MRS as being the most appropriate provider because they have specialised knowledge to support men in a domestic and family violence context. They offer 24/7 anonymous and confidential telephone counselling, information and referrals to stop men from using violent and controlling behaviour. MRS has helped thousands of men ensuring family members are free from violence. It’s for this reason they have been chosen because they understand the behaviours of perpetrators and aggressors and know how to identify a genuine victim. Victims will be referred to local support services in NSW while aggressors will be encouraged to take part in Men’s Behaviour Change programs.

In the past MRS denied the existence of male victims and then suggested these victims don’t experience abuse in the same way as women and hence didn’t deserve support. Given this history and the fact that the organization has previously worked only with perpetrators, many are surprised the government would put MRS in charge of this pilot programme. What were the factors contributing to it being appointed?

Response:The decision to engage MRS was based on an evidence-based approach that has been successfully trialled and tested in the United Kingdom. In the UK, the predominant service working with male victims of family violence is the Men’s Advice Line, which was established and run by ‘Respect’ – the peak body for UK domestic violence perpetrator programs. Similar to the Men’s Referral Service, ‘Respect’ also runs a national referral service for perpetrators. They established the service very carefully based on extensive research and found a significant number of male callers who identified as victims of intimate partner violence were actually predominant aggressors. In July last year, Victims Services conducted a successful trial where 500 male victims were referred to MRS. It found 34 per cent of men identified as victims were actually the predominant aggressor. Over 50 per cent of men, who were identified as victims after being screened, were victims of family violence rather than intimate partner violence. Screening males ensures genuine victims are provided with the best and safest care. It also proved you need a service provider with nuanced skills in working with men to respond safely and appropriately to aggressors identifying as victims. In addition to this, these assessments have been carried out by MRS in Victoria for 20 years and have been successful.  Victims Services NSW has extensive experience supporting male victims across the state. It will continue to work closely with MRS during the trial to ensure that all male victims receive the highest quality care and service. (Note that Victims Services NSW is not a domestic violence organisation but rather a service for victims of crime which helps both men and women. Their personnel have no specific training in working with men – BA)

Many would see this decision as putting the fox in charge of the chicken pen. Australian research shows male victims are rightly nervous of seeking help due to unfair, unsympathetic handling by police, domestic violence organisations and by many so called men’s help lines. Does the government have any concerns that victims will distrust the organisation and hence not take advantage of these new services?

Response: Calls to male victims will only be made by MRS workers who have undertaken specific training in working with male victims of domestic violence. Victims Services NSW continues to closely oversee the operation of Safer Pathway for all male victims in NSW and provides rigorous training, monitoring and evaluation of service delivery for male domestic and family violence victims. Victims Services will be closely monitoring any feedback from male clients to ensure they are receiving the support they need.

Could I please have details of the Victims Services trial? Was the research published? How did the researchers track down the 500 male victims?

Response: No to Violence and the Men’s Referral Service was approached by Victims Services NSW in June of 2015 to explore cooperative processes around engaging with men who are assessed by police to be the victim in incidents of domestic and family violence. A pilot was borne out of these discussions, which was for NTV/MRS to contact, engage, assess and appropriately refer 500 men who were assessed by NSW Police and referred to Victims Services NSW under Safer Pathway. Victims Services NSW has been the Local Coordination Point for male victims since the start of Safer Pathway on 15 September 2014. Victims Services NSW randomly selected 500 male referrals as a small discreet subsection of the total referrals received under Safer Pathway. The men involved in this pilot were referred through Safer Pathway, where the Police attended a domestic or family violence incident, and where the Police Officer identified the male as the victim and referred them on for support. All contact with the clients involved in the pilot was carried out via telephone, which is consistent with the Safer Pathway service delivery model.

You spell out the fact that the role of MRS will be to identify genuine victims and refer them to “local support services in NSW” There are no appropriate specialised services to support male victims in NSW – which is why the announcement of this pilot programme was greeted with such acclaim by many concerned about the plight of these victims. Given that men are regularly turned away from domestic violence services in this state where will these men be referred for help? 

Response: As announced on Monday 7 November 2016, male victims of domestic and family violence will receive dedicated support, through NSW Government’s record investment of $13.3 million over four years to support men and boys to access support. Under Safer Pathways, male victims will receive initial contact by the male Local Coordination Point (previously Victims Services NSW and now MRS) after Police have attended an incident in which the male is identified as the primary victim. MRS will conduct a safety assessment and connect men with appropriate support services through referrals (such as homelessness assistance or suicide intervention). Men who have asked for additional or ongoing support will then receive case management from a local support service in their geographical area. The intention of this record investment in the safety of men and boys experiencing domestic or family violence is that local support services will be funded to provide specialist case management to male victims. The tender process is not yet finalised, however the details of these specialist support organisations will be available once the tender process is finished. Until such time as the local support services are engaged, Victims Services NSW continues to perform the case coordination role for male victims under Safer Pathway.

Having promoted this new service as providing support for male victims, the government has now awarded this tender to an organisation whose primary goal will be to weed out perpetrators from alleged victims and then simply refer on those found somehow to be victims to non-existent services. Wouldn’t you agree that this new allocation of resources actually does nothing to actually support male victims? 

Response:The primary role of the Men’s Referral Service is to provide risk assessment, using the Domestic Violence Safety Assessment Tool (also used by the Police) and crisis referrals to men and boys experiencing domestic or family violence in NSW. In keeping with evidence that domestic violence is a gendered-crime, it is important that whilst providing the highest level of victim-focussed trauma-informed support to male victims, services operating in this field must hold an understanding of how and when to respond if it is identified that a client is a predominant aggressor. This function is secondary to the primary role of supporting male victims by carrying out a comprehensive risk assessment and connecting clients with specialist support service.Victims Services is in the process of engaging local support services in 46 locations across the state as referral points for male victims. These local support services will provide localised holistic support to male victims who are referred by MRS.

I assume Victims Services or some other government-sponsored organisation must have conducted similar research to determine the proportion of alleged female victims who are actually perpetrators. Could you please alert me to this research? If this research has not be done, may I ask why not?  I assume when female victims contact support services for help they must be also I put through a screening process to determine whether they are perpetrators. Could you please supply details of how this process is conducted with female victims? If this screening process applies only to male victims I would like to see how discriminatory process is justified by the government – please provide an explanation.  

Response: Research conducted by Women NSW for It Stops Here: the Domestic and Family Violence Framework for Reform Blueprint demonstrates that: “DFV is an issue that affects both sexes, all ages and across all population groups. However, the majority of its victims are women and children, while the majority of perpetrators are men. The Personal Safety Survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) estimates that one in six of all women in Australia have, since the age of 15 years, experienced violence by a partner they lived with (this figure rises to one in four women when boyfriends and dates are included).1 For men, the same figure is one in 20. Males make up the overwhelming number of perpetrators across all victim groups .”

Can NSW Justice please provide the relevant Tender document used for the “rigorous and extensive procurement process”?

 Response: There was no tender. It was a direct negotiation. MRS will receive $1 million per annum for one year, with an option to extend the contract by another three years if the pilot is successful.

 If the MRS appointment wasn’t part of the $13M Tender for local services for male victims of DV, what extra funding is being provided to pay for their services?

 Response: The MRS appointment is part of the $13.3 million funding provided by the NSW Government for male victims over four years. This funding includes the engagement of MRS and eight Local Support Services across the state.

 Is the MRS both screening male victims then referring those found to be ‘perpetrators’ to their own perpetrator programs a conflict of interest? i.e. Are they being paid by the government to run perpetrator programs? And if so, is it true that the more men they classify as ‘perpetrators’, the more money MRS will make?

Response: NSW Justice does not fund MRS’ men’s behaviour programs. The $1 million is to pay for screening and referral services as part of the Safer Pathway program. In addition to the general victim support, MRS will refer the predominant aggressor to appropriate behaviour change programs in NSW. This could be their own, or another one in NSW (closer to the victim’s location), or an alcohol/drug-addiction program, or support for the family unit. The referral pathway depends 100 per cent on what the victim needs, as sometimes it’s not a men’s behaviour change program, rather it could be an alcohol/drug-addiction program. The $1 million funding is not impacted by the number of men they refer to perpetrator programs.

The percentage of male and female perpetrators and victims presented in the data isn’t relevant to the issue of whether to screen persons who present as victims. Even if 99% of persons presenting as victims were female (and Minister Goward admits it’s more like two thirds), some of those women could still be perpetrators claiming to be victims (as could the men). What research evidence do you have to show that men are more likely than women to lie about being victims when they are in fact perpetrators? Surely this is the only basis upon which the Government could rightly screen men but not women and not be found to be discriminatory?

Response: We have not conducted research about perpetrators lying about their victimisation. However we know victims can be perpetrators and vice-versa, even during the same incident. The nature of Victims Services is to treat all victims equally and ensure they receive appropriate support. Even where MRS identified a victim as a predominant aggressor, they will still be treated predominantly as a victim, be provided with victim support and their victimisation will not be minimised. However, the additional level is that where the predominant aggressor has been identified, they get another level of support which may be a behaviour change program or similar program to support the family unit.