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Domestic Violence Perpetrators Wait Months For Help

Men who are at risk of committing violence again are being referred to programs to help them change and take responsibility for their behaviour but providers say waiting lists are growing.

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Men who commit domestic violence are waiting months to access the behavioural change programs that could give them the help they need, experts say.

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Rodney Vlais, the manager of No To Violence, a group working to prevent male family violence, said there were hundreds of men in Victoria on waiting lists for the programs.

"We had about 1000 waiting, 700 were waiting just for an assessment and 300 were assessed as eligible but were waiting for an actual place and that was a year ago, but things remain broadly similar as money from the Victorian Royal Commission (into Family Violence) starts to flow in," Vlais told BuzzFeed News.

He said the programs lower the risk for women and children experiencing family violence and sometimes allowed them to remain in their homes instead of "uprooting their lives".

"The men in these programs are used to using violence to get their way and they have unfair expectations of women so we work with men to undo those attitudes about women, and work on responding to their emotions," he said.

A central part of the program was encouraging men to challenge traditional archetypes of masculinity and thinking differently about "what it means to be a man".

"We look at these pressures that men perceive that they need to be in charge or in control and that is delicate work because sometimes there are good intentions buried there about wanting to protect their partners, so we look at how they use their own power on a day-to-day basis," Vlais said.

In some states there is just one provider for the entire state.

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There are 35 Victorian men's behaviour change programs, 14 in Queensland, 12 in NSW, four in Western Australia, two in South Australia, one in the Northern Territory and one in Tasmania.

Although waiting lists were too long, Vlais said the Australian programs available were currently too short to have the best possible outcomes and to properly assess the "patterns of control" the participant uses.

"They vary from about three to six months but we want to upgrade our standards to international industry standard which is at least six months of work or about 50 to 60 hours of intervention."

The Men's Referral Service provides anonymous and confidential telephone advice nationally and has logged more than 150,000 calls, many anonymous, since it started in 1993.

Relationships Australia WA executive director of domestic violence services, Michael Sheehan, said all 11 of the men's behaviour change groups his organisation offered in Western Australia were "full to capacity".

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"In some locations the waitlist is up to eight weeks for men to have their initial appointment," Sheehan told BuzzFeed News. "Men often request to stay on in group, beyond their 24 weeks, to maintain the changes they have taken on, adding additional demand for the service, which is limited by current budget restraints."

Women and children have to wait an average of six weeks for an initial appointment in the organisation's FAIR (Family Abuse Integrated Response).

"Our experience is that once women have had a positive response they often request to repeat group counselling and continue using the service, particularly as their circumstances around physical and emotional well-being, and financial stability often fluctuates on a day-to-day basis due to ongoing abuse," he said.

"A woman's decision to leave a relationship where she has experienced violence and control is recognised as a time of elevated risk of harm to her and her children."

For support on an issue of family or domestic violence from anywhere in Australia, phone 1800Respect (1800 737 732) or the Men's Referral Service (1300 766 491)