Breaking the Bystander Effect

July 13, 2018

One of the biggest obstacles to reducing the scourge of domestic and family violence is what is called the Bystander Effect where family, friends and even strangers do nothing when they suspect someone is being abused.

It could be the slightest change in a work mate’s personality, a friend’s bruise or even a limp developed by a sister’s dog.

The signs can be many and varied but too often are not acted on, resulting in the abuse continuing and in most cases, getting worse.

This is the focus behind Griffith University’s MATE Bystander Program, which it established to educate people on the signs of domestic and family violence and the tactics to intervene effectively.

The term Bystander was first developed after a women Kitty Genovese’s murder in 1964 in the US was witnessed by 38 of her neighbours, with none coming to her aid.

The MATE Bystander Program is designed to teach community members how to recognise  the signs of domestic and family violence and have the confidence to speak out and offer help.

This year saw The MATE Bystander Program partner with The Allison Baden-Clay Foundation with the aim of raising funds and awareness of the level of abusive behaviour in our culture as well as the subtler issues that support a harmful and abusive society.

Through the partnership, The Foundation, currently involved in it’s annual Strive To Be Kind campaign, hopes the community will be educated on recognising the signs of domestic and family violence and know the tactics to intervene effectively.

The program will weave Allison’s story throughout and encourage participants to create a discussion while also providing tactics on how to be an effective bystander.

Allison’s parents Geoff and Priscilla Dickie, express their desire for the community to have knowledge about domestic and family violence and the skills to know what to do in these situations.

“Growing up we are often taught not to interfere in other people’s affairs, especially marriages, and for us this made it difficult to speak up, said Allison’s mother Priscilla .

“In Allison’s case, there was a difference in attitudes and increasing number of incidents happening over a long period of time.

“Through our partnership with Griffith University’s MATE Bystander Program, we hope that we can teach the community how to identify these small things and how to approach and prevent domestic violence.”

The program will target the business and corporate environment due to Allison’s connection to this sector and allow the important message to spread to all corners of our community.

Simply put, the bystander holds the key to preventing violence and harmful behaviour. We just need to equip all people with the knowledge and the tools to effectively intervene in safe and appropriate ways.

Director of The MATE Bystander Program, Shaan Ross-Smith, said the Program  had seen a synergy with the Allison Baden-Clay Foundation and the potential to create something “truly impactful”.

“We are inspired by the passion Geoff, Priscilla and Vanessa (Allison’s sister)  have to ensure Allison’s story is used to educate and empower communities to prevent violence,” she said.

“We are excited to work on this partnership and continue to challenge and change attitudes about domestic and family violence through an amplified platform. We also look forward to the possibility of reaching a market that is often not associated with this topic, but one that can be just as easily affected by it.”

See (attached) the Power and Control Wheel (also known as The Duluth Model) designed by American organisation, Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs. The wheel was created in the early 1980s to illustrate the different actions abusers employ to intimidate and hurt their victims. Since this time, Duluth- a small community in northern Minnesota- has been an innovator of ways to hold perpetrators accountable and keep victims safe. The “Duluth Model” is an ever-evolving way of thinking about how a community works together to end domestic and family violence. You can find out more here: 

From the age of 15, one in  four women have experienced verbal and/or emotional abuse by a current or former partner. (Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence in Australia Report, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2018).

In Australia, we have one woman a week on average, dying at the hands of her current or former partner. This is a statistic that we all have the capacity to influence, prevent and change.

This week, a landmark investigation into female medical staff in Australia was released and found nearly half have experienced domestic violence, including one in 10 who had been abused by their partner in the past year alone.

The study, published in the BMC Women’s Health journal, involved 471 doctors, nurses and health professionals in Victoria and is believed to be the first to examine the link between domestic violence and female medical staff.

It found 45 per cent of those surveyed had experienced domestic violence, and that one in eight had been sexually assaulted by a partner since the age of 16.

Lead researcher Elizabeth McLindon, from the University of Melbourne and the Royal Women’s Hospital, said the study was crucial given these are the same staff who deal with patients seeking help for similar abuse.

“Healthcare workers are increasingly required to identify and support women and children who have experienced family violence,” Ms McLindon said.

“For some workers, [their own experience] may result in them going the extra mile in supporting survivor patients.

“But for some women, it could also trigger personal trauma to hear stories of other people’s experiences of violence.”

It found that healthcare workers were well over-represented in the data.

Ms McLindon said Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows 2.1 per cent of women in the community have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from their partner in the past year, compared to 4.7 per cent of the female healthcare workers in her study.

The 2018 Strive To Be Kind Campaign, now in its seventh year after Allison was murdered, focuses on  how ‘we all have a voice’ and that this voice can be used in many ways. Through this campaign The Allison Baden-Clay Foundation aims to encourage people to reflect on how they use their voice and emphasise the importance of using it with kindness.

On Friday 27th of July the Strive To Be Kind campaign concludes with Strive To Be Kind Day. On this day the community is encouraged to show their support by wearing yellow (Allison’s favourite colour). The day also sees The Foundation host the Strive To Be Kind Luncheon, which will be held at Victoria Park Golf Complex this year. Tickets are $150 and the event runs from 11:30am to 3:30pm.

The Brisbane City Council is also showing their support on Strive To Be Kind Day by lighting the Story Bridge, Victoria Bridge and City Hall in yellow.

To listen to Allison’s sister, Vanessa Fowler, discuss the bystander effect along with Griffith University’s Anoushka Dowling- click here.

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