The freedom from fear campaign

This section is a copy of a paper written by Leonie Gibbons and Donna Paterson and presented at the Conference Reducing Criminality: Partnerships and Best Practice convened by the Australian Institute of Criminology, in association with the WA Ministry of Justice, Department of Local Government, Western Australian Police Service and Safer WA and held in Perth 31 July and 1 August 2000.

In 1995 the Western Australian government Family and Domestic Violence Taskforce produced a number of key recommendations addressing service and support to victims; programs for men who have used violence; ‘grass roots’ partnerships; and changing community attitudes and behaviour through a ten year community education campaign.

In response to these key recommendations the challenge was to develop a non-punitive campaign focusing primarily on men who have used violence (and potential men who have used violence), asking them to seek help to change their violent ways. The logic behind the campaign is that if violent men voluntarily change their violent behaviour, this will not only reduce the incidence of violence, but also reduce the fear felt by their women partners and children. Elements of the Campaign include mass media supported by a combination of strategies that reinforce the key messages and create environments that promote and sustain intentions towards behaviour change. The significance of this campaign was that it used extensive interview and testing amongst men who use family violence to refine and test the impact of message. 

Qualitative research was carried out (Donovan Research, 1996) with two distinct target groups:

The broad objectives of this research were to examine:

  1. Criminal Sanctions

  2. Community Intervention

  3. Social Disapproval

  4. Consequences

  5. Help is Available

 A total of 15 focus groups were conducted, stratified by age and social economic status (ie. 'blue collar' and 'white collar'). Nine of the groups were conducted in Perth; the remaining 6 groups were spread across four regional towns: Albany, Narrogin, Karratha, Port Hedland.

In order not to pre-sensitise participants to the issues of domestic violence, and to reduce any bias in group composition, all group participants were kept 'blind' as to the purpose of the groups, being told only that the groups would be discussing 'some important social issues'. In fact, as part of the group recruitment screening, all men who were contacted were asked to rate each of a number of social concerns in terms of "how important you personally think it is”? This provided an indication of the relative salience of domestic violence as an issue.

In developing protocols for the group sessions with general population males, it was acknowledged that domestic violence might prove to be an uncomfortable topic of discussion for some respondents, while others might claim insufficient knowledge of, or exposure to the issue to make much contribution to the group. There existed a possibility therefore that discussion would be stilted and the 'group synergy' essential to successful group discussions would fail to be established.

In order to minimise the potential for this to occur, the issue of "violence in society", was introduced as the initial topic of discussion. Discussion moved to issues of domestic violence spontaneously during the discussion of "violence in society". This approach was successful in two respects; firstly the discussion of "violence in society", about which many men had strong opinions, allowed 'group synergy' to be quickly established and this 'synergy' was maintained throughout the discussion of more challenging topics. Secondly, it provided some insight into the relative salience men attribute to domestic violence in the context of violence in general.

The moderator then probed men's general beliefs and attitudes about intimate partner violence (i.e. causes; definitions; awareness of and reaction to previous campaigns; etc). The groups focused on examples in participants' current or previous relationship(s), or their friends' and relatives' relationships, of physical or verbal /emotional abuse.

The theme of criminal sanctions, community intervention and social disapproval had little impact in the testing stage.  The theme of damage to partner was not a salient issue amongst men who have used violence and lacked credibility amongst men in the general community who (correctly) doubted men who have used violence cared about the damage to their partners. This theme was dismissed as likely to be ineffective.

In contrast, the effect on and damage to children was universally seen as a very powerful notion amongst men who had used violence:

This was also considered to be an effective and resonant theme by the majority of men in the general community, and thus was recommended as the key strategy for the initial phases of the campaign.

The theme of 'Help is Available' was universally endorsed by men who have used violence and strongly endorsed by men in the general community because it was seen as a positive message that addressed the 'siege mentality' syndrome. The view of most men who have used violence was that the focus should clearly be on sources of formal help (i.e. counselling programs, treatment programs etc.) rather than informal help.

Outcome: The campaign recommended a positive 'help is available' theme was recommended to support and complement the 'effect on children’s strategy.

Three concepts "Nightmare", "Horror Movie", and "Back Seat" were developed and tested quantitatively with 302 men living in metropolitan areas aged 18-40 year old males where a proportion of whom were defined as 'at risk'.

Apart from message comprehension, credibility and motivational (i.e. 'call to action') measures, the ads were assessed on the extent to which they appeared to be an unwarranted 'attack' on all men, and the extent to which they appeared to suggest that the violence depicted was in some way provoked by the women - both undesirable responses.

ADTEST ® Findings

Firstly, there was overwhelming support for the Campaign, with 91% of 'at risk' males in favour of the government running this campaign. Other ADTEST results included:

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