The Family Violence Prevention Foundation of Australia


Do Men’s Behaviour Change Programs work in the long term? This, and many other questions about these programs, has vexed professionals, participants and their families for many years.

So, it is with great pleasure that we can now post the research report on our Longitudinal Study into the Effectiveness of Men’s Behaviour Change Programs.

The research was conducted by Professor Emeritus Thea Brown, Professor of Social Work at Monash University and co-author of “Child Abuse and Family Law” Allen and Unwin, 2007, with her associate, Dr Catherine Flynn, and others.

The findings of the study are very optimistic. The men’s behaviour change programs work, they work well and they work in the long term.

Violence Free Families is proud of its role in sponsoring and funding this research and will continue to work hard towards the prevention of family violence in our society.

To view a summary of the report, please click here.

To view the full research report, please fill out the form below to obtain your copy.


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1. Headlines

The programs work, they work well and they work in the long term.

They show a sharp reduction in the nature and severity of violence over the duration of the programs and that this reduction is maintained and improved upon in subsequent months and years. Most of the men become violence free or almost violence free two years after their program.

This continued reduction in violence is not without effort. Men fear relapsing and often seek further help. This does not negate the value of the programs, which set them on this path.

There is no evidence that one type of violence is transferred to another, eg, physical to psychological. All types reduce together.

Mandated men have significantly better results than non-mandated men. This may be due to motivation and the role of Corrections in managing the men and possibly also to the lower incidence of mental health problems among mandated men.

A critical factor in the quality of programs, as viewed by the men, is the quality of the facilitators. The group dynamics are frequently cited as another vital factor. Program design did not seem to play a great part.

2. Reliability

The questionnaire responses showed a lower reduction in the men’s perceptions of the seriousness of their behaviour than did the more objective response to numbers and types of incidents. This probably reflects the improved perception of the consequences of their behaviour and this view was supported by phone interview responses, which reinforced and expanded on the questionnaire information overall.

3. Partner Views

Partners who were in a current relationship with the man, original or new, were positive.

Partners who had separated felt it had not protected them or had come too late.

4. Other Factors

Substance abuse

Approx 27% reported problems with alcohol. This had improved to about 14% in later surveys.

Mental illness

Approx 34% reported mental illness and it might be speculated that this is an underestimate. The most frequent problem reported was depression. This rate did not change.


A high percentage of men (nearly 80%) were in contact with children, including about 7% who were sole parents. The programs do not deal with parenting issues in an adequate way and this is a need that should be addressed more fully.

Ali’s twin sons saw it all. They saw their dad shouting at their mother. They saw him smash a door and shards of glass glinting on the floor. And they saw the police officers, after their mum called for help.

And how did these six-year-old boys feel? Ali* clears his throat. This is not an easy thing to talk about. “Very frightened. They probably lost their trust with me.”

But he says he was relieved, pleased even, his wife called the police to their Melbourne home after he shouted and smashed things. It was not the first time.

The visit from police became a line in the sand, a turning point.

“I knew that what I was doing was wrong, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I was always aware it wasn’t the proper behaviour,” he says.

A court appearance followed, a humiliating experience he never wants to repeat. Ali pleaded guilty to wilful damage and had an intervention order issued against him. Punishment came in the form of a one-year good behaviour bond, and he was ordered to do a behaviour change program.

Men’s behaviour change programs, many with long waiting lists, have become a common penalty meted out to perpetrators of family violence who come before the courts.

But until now, there has been little Australian research.

Now a comprehensive snapshot of 300 Australian men who use violence, and their partners (or ex-partners), over two years, gives cause for optimism. The Monash University study found:

The number of men inflicting violence fell by half across all categories of abusive behaviour, from physical violence to demeaning behaviour.

Their violence didn’t just shift from one area to another. It reduced in all areas, with 65 per cent of the men reporting they were either no longer violent, or almost violence-free, after two years.

About 80 per cent of men saw their abusive behaviour as serious two years after their program finished, compared with 60 before the program.

It was surprising to find the men who improved the most had been ordered by a court to do the program, said co-author Professor Thea Brown, from the uni’s Department of Social Work.

Men’s behavioural change are not an anger-management courses. The counsellors and psychologists who run them try to increase an abuser’s empathy for their victims, and talk about how stereotypical gender roles can be damaging to women.

“Often we have to go back to the grassroots and talk about respect for the views of others,” says Pam Wilkie-Clark, who runs the men’s specialist service at Bethany, in Geelong. The men in her programs often view assertive behaviour from their partners as being aggressive.

Partner’s views on the program varied considerably, Professor Brown said. Those who stayed with the man, or new partners, were very positive. But those who had left were negative, feeling the program had either not protected them, or came too late to matter.
‘That frustration inside me, sometimes it’s hard to cope with’. Ali

During his six-month program at Bethany, Ali realised his approach to parenting was quite different to his wife, and he got very angry at her approach. She was very relaxed while he wanted a strict routine. The main thing he took away from the program was that everyone, including his wife, was entitled to personal choice.

And not everything has been resolved. Before the police were called in, Ali had been to a counsellor a few times about his abusive outbursts. He says he will go back.

“I still sometimes become really frustrated. I don’t react, I never externalise it. But that frustration inside me, sometimes it’s hard to cope with.”

Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence recommended a boost to heavily over-subscribed men’s behavioural change programs. In the most recent budget $1 million was put towards these programs.

The research was funded by Violence Free Families, and will be available online soon.

For help in a crisis call 000.

For family violence help contact Safe Steps: 1800 015 188

*Names have been changed.

Read Miki Perkin’s full article here:


This year has seen the near-completion of our longitudinal study into the outcomes of men’s behaviour change programs by Monash University and preparation for delivering our new online men’s behaviour change program on a large scale.


Data collection for the research study was completed in October and Professor Emeritus Thea Brown, our lead researcher, has presented preliminary findings to numerous organisations, including the Royal Commission into Family Violence, the Australian Institute of Family Studies, the Department of Health and Human Service (Vic) and other interested organisations.

The key finding is that the programs work, they work well and they work in the long term. This is the largest study ever conducted in Australia, one of very few in the world and contributes substantially to removing past doubts about the outcomes of programs. In addition to the headline findings, there is a great deal of detail that will assist in developing future programs, especially in the area of parenting.

The Online Behavior Change Program

The fourth online men’s behaviour change program ran from February to May and was very successful. We confidently expect that the University of Melbourne’s evaluation report will be as positive as the reports on previous programs.

Clients from three States, regional and urban, and from indigenous and ethnically diverse communities participated. This confirmed the universal need for the program and the reasons that drove this initiative in the first place. We aim to start regular program provision in 2017.

Rotary Exchange Ambassadorships

In February, Rotary District 9800, the Rotary Club of Balwyn and Violence Free Families awarded the first annual Rotary Exchange Ambassadorship for family violence prevention professionals. The Australian awardee, Superintendent Matthew Ryan, deputy head of Victoria Police’s Family Violence prevention unit, travelled to New Orleans and other parts of the USA for eight weeks, gathering information that will benefit the Victorian and Australian community. The incoming exchange ambassador, Marie-Claire Landry from New Orleans, visited Victorian organisations and addressed the District 9800 Annual Conference in Bendigo.

Funding and Community Support

Our Ambassador, Colleen Hewett and her manager, Danny Finley, continued to support us and publicise our cause. They presented to a sold-out concert in Bendigo and Colleen did radio and TV interviews and continued to air her anti-violence anthem, ‘Let me Breathe’.

We welcomed the continuing official recognition of our programs by Rotary. Generous donations were received from Women in Rotary and clubs, as well as philanthropic trusts and individual donors. Many family violence prevention presentations were made to community organisations, spreading awareness of family violence and our contributions to prevention.

Dr David Smyth

27th – 29th September 2016 | Crowne Plaza, Melbourne

Just under half a million Australian women reported that they had experienced physical or sexual violence in the past 12 months, according to the Domestic Violence Prevention Centre and over a million women have experienced physical or sexual assault by their current or ex-partner since the age of 15. These figures demonstrate a great need for significant reform in the area of domestic and family violence.

With the Victorian Government committing $527 million to addressing domestic and family violence earlier this year, the NSW Government followed suit and pledged $300m in June. It is vital that not for profit agencies implement strategies to increase their scalability and capacity to continue delivering important services.

Akolade’s 2nd Breaking the Cycle of Domestic and Family Violence Conference, which will be held on 27-29 September in Melbourne, provides a timely opportunity to explore how front-line services can utilise this funding to improve organisational efficiency.

Attend and hear from senior leaders in this sector including:

  • Rebecca Poulson, Chief Executive Officer, The Poulson Family Foundation, Author, ‘Killing Love’
  • Amy J Sanchez, Chief Executive Officer, Break the Cycle, Minnesota, US
  • The Hon. Martin Foley MP, Minister for Housing, Disability and Ageing, Minister for Mental Health, Minister for Equality, Minister for Creative Industries, Victorian Government
  • Kon Karapanagiotidis, Chief Executive Officer, One of Pro Bono’s top 25 Most Influential People in the Social Sector of 2015, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre
  • David Smyth, Chairman, Violence Free Families, VIC

Click here to see the event brochure

Key benefits of attending:

  • How to access new government funding opportunities
  • How to maximise resources to strengthen capacity
  • Innovative strategies to improve quality and scalability of service delivery to meet growing demand for frontline services
  • Diversifying service delivery approaches to meet the diversification of relationships
  • Methods to strengthen culturally effective service delivery to Indigenous communities
  • Implementing leading-edge perpetrator behavioural change programs

To register, please contact Akolade on 02 9247 6000 or

Behaviour change programs are highly effective for domestic violence perpetrators.

Two thirds of violent men who attend behaviour change programs completely stop abusing their families within two years, but they always fear slipping back into their old ways.

The first Australian study into the long-term effects of interventions for domestic violence perpetrators found that court-ordered participants in behaviour change programs were the most likely to stop being violent.

Monash University followed men who attended behaviour change programs in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia for two years after they completed the program.

Monash social work professor Thea Brown said 65 per cent of men were classed as violence-free at the end of the study. This meant they no longer physically, emotionally or sexually abused their partners, or made them afraid.

“That’s a good outcome. The men do improve considerably,” Professor Brown said. “It shows that the programs are effective.” After the initial three-month program, most men continued to use professional help to remain violence-free.

Men who had been ordered by the courts to attend a behaviour change program did better than their peers. Professor Brown suggested this could be because they were more tightly monitored, had been rattled by their court experience, or feared the legal consequences if they didn’t succeed at changing their behaviour.

All the men said it was difficult to remain violence-free. “None of them ever felt they were in a secure position and wouldn’t slip back,” Professor Brown said. “It’s very hard to do as well as they should every day of the year.”

One man said: “I only feel confident when I’m doing the program.”

This daily battle was identified by some of the men’s partners who contributed to the study. “He’s good most days, not every day,” one woman said of her partner. Overall most women were optimistic about the future with their formerly violent partners.

Half the men had broken up with their partners before they started the behaviour change program. Forty per cent of the program participants were born overseas.

Older men who were in relationships and had a higher standard of education were marginally more likely to permanently change their behaviour. However Professor Brown said: “We still don’t know why some men change and some men don’t.”

Men said the program facilitators, rather than the actual content, made the difference to them. They also liked the group dynamic. “They found a lot of individual support, they felt they were being accepted by other people, they felt less evil,” Professor Brown said.

Men were disappointed the programs didn’t provide any help with their parenting.

The programs failed to reduce the incidence of mental illness among domestic violence perpetrators. Thirty per cent of violent men have mental health problems. The programs did halve the incidence of alcohol and substance abuse.

Professor Brown said her research, which was funded by Violence Free Families, showed there was a need for closer monitoring of participants in men’s behaviour change programs, and proper exit assessments that could refer men to ongoing support services. Parenting advice also needs to be provided.

By Cosima Marriner

Read more:

Rotary Albert Park in conjunction with The Family Violence Prevention Foundation of Australia Invite you to a Special Event

Come along and join Rotary Albert Park on Wednesday 2nd March and hear from Violence Free Families Ambassadors Matthew Ryan (Victoria Police Family Violence Command) and Mary Claire Landry (Executive Director New Orleans Family Justice Alliance).

Both are very keen to share their plans for the first vocational exchange program run by Rotary & Violence Free Families.

Date – Wednesday March 2nd 2016

Time – 6.00pm – 8.00pm

Venue – Life Saving Victoria

Address – 200 The Boulevard Port Melbourne 3201

Cost – $28 per head / Drinks at Bar Prices

Bookings Essential – RSVP – Friday February 26th 2016 by clicking on the link
Contact Details: Bec Heitbaum –, 0411 690 341

Matthew Ryan

Police Superintendent Matthew Ryan has been selected to represent District 9800 on a vocational exchange of experts in family violence being arranged between Rotary District 9800 and District 6840, centred on New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. The exchange program is supported by Violence Free Families. Matthew is the sole superintendent in the Victoria Police Family Violence Command established in March 2015. He leads a team of 50 staff working collaboratively to prevent and reduce the harm caused by child abuse, sexual assault, and family violence.

Superintendent Ryan will travel to the United States for two weeks in late March. He will be hosted there by local Rotarians and will study the work of police and other agencies involved with domestic violence. He will also speak at the District 6840 Conference being held at the Island View Casino & Resort in Gulfport, Louisiana.

District 6840 has also selected an expert in the field to spend two weeks in Victoria looking at ways the various agencies here tackle the growing problem of family violence. That person will speak at the District 9800 Conference in Bendigo on 12th March.

This exchange of vocational leaders in the field grew out of the very successful Group Study Exchange (GSE) run between Districts 9800 and 6840 in March and April 2015. At the time of that GSE, the team leaders, DGN Peter Frueh (9800) and Carl Michel (6840) agreed that domestic violence was a major issue in both communities and that by having a vocational exchange of this sort the relationship between our two Rotary Districts would be enhanced in a meaningful way. It is intended that the exchange will be hosted by each District for two weeks each year for three years.

Superintendent Matthew Ryan says that “This exchange will inspire me to be innovative in the way I lead police to combat family violence in Victoria. I feel privileged to be selected and am very grateful to Rotary for allowing me to represent Victoria in this way.” He is keen to create positive lasting links with family violence professionals in the USA.

Prior to establishing the Family Violence Command, Matthew was the Superintendent in charge of the Victoria Police State Emergency Response Division. He was the Police Commander for the Murrindindi and Mitchell Shires for three months during and after the 2009 Black Saturday fires. He has worked in metropolitan and rural Victoria as a police operative, detective, supervisor and manager. From 2001, he spent five years planning and delivering the security overlay for the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games.

In 2008, Matthew was sponsored by the Rotary Club of Chadstone – East Malvern as a participant in the first Rotary Victoria Police Leadership Mentoring Program. He is an accomplished speaker and has spoken at Rotary Clubs, police conferences and various community forums.

Matthew has been married for 29 years. He and his wife have four sons.

His trip has been made possible by a travel grant from the Rotary Club of Balwyn. The leadership of District 9800 and Violence Free Families are very appreciative of the Balwyn Club’s generous support of this new vocational exchange and wishes to place on record their grateful thanks to the club.

Past District Governor, Rotary District 9800
Murray Verso

In the past six months, significant milestones were passed on our two major projects and we enjoyed the continued warm and enthusiastic support of our Ambassador Colleen Hewett and her manager, Danny Finley, as well as that of several major donors and many smaller ones.

The Online Men’s Behavior Change Program

Following the excellent evaluation report by the University of Melbourne, we signed a contract with On the Line Australia for the provision of the first regular online men’s behaviour change program, to commence in February, 2016.

This has required a revision of program documentation, assisting OTL with systems for implementation and OTL staff training.

At the same time, we are seeking registration of the program in NSW and the extensive documentation required for this process is well advanced.


Data collection for our research study into the long term results of conventional men’s behaviour change programs was completed and analysis and documentation is in progress. Publication of results and two seminars for professionals are planned for the next half year.

Fund Raising and Community Relations

Colleen Hewett and some outstanding performers gave a concert in October to a near-capacity audience in the new Bendigo Ulumbarra Theatre and generously donated part of the proceeds to VFF.

Our programs could not have continued without the generous support of several philanthropic trusts and we are most grateful to them.

We welcomed the continuing official recognition of our program by Rotary, and our information stand at the annual Australia-New Zealand Rotary Zone Institute Meeting in Sydney was very well-patronised. Members of Violence Free Families addressed many clubs and organisations in the half-year period, spreading awareness of family violence and our contribution to prevention.


The Board was delighted to welcome new Director Gabe Hau in November and his contributions have already been of great value.

Dr David Smyth


Violence Free Families works for the elimination of all forms of family violence. We believe that Research, Innovation and Education can help improve the lives of vulnerable children and women, and help curb the incidence of family violence.