Working with community to prevent youth sexual abuse and violence

Griffith University researchers are working with young people in Toowoomba and Bundaberg to deliver community-led Action Plans focused on reducing youth sexual violence and assault (YSVA).

Professor Sharyn Rundle-Thiele, Founding Director of Social Marketing @ Griffith, said the Queensland place-based initiatives were funded by the Queensland Government.

Griffith academic Sharyn Rundle-Thiele sits behind her office desk.
Professor Sharyn Rundle-Thiele.

“Together with the community we will deliver locally tailored prevention strategies for young people that will promote safe and healthy relationships, strengthen personal and online safety, and reduce the risk of violence and sexual assault,” said Professor Sharyn Rundle-Thiele.

Supported by the University of the Sunshine Coast and local Toowoomba organisation, Civic Assist, Social Marketing @ Griffith is leading community efforts in Toowoomba to design a prevention program to be rolled out over the next 12 months.

The Toowoomba initiative is being led by the Young Voices United Committee ensuring the program is developed with, not for, young people.

“A unique feature of this project is that young people are effectively being put in charge and they will be telling the project team which ideas should stay in and which should go out,” said Professor Rundle-Thiele.

“By placing young people at the heart of the project we expect the resulting Action Plan will inform the implementation of a prevention program that will effectively reach and engage more youth.”

“Our first project committee meeting demonstrated how enthusiastic and determined young people in the Toowoomba community are to make a change for the better and in fact the youth leaders named themselves Young Voices United.”

The project will also draw from the expertise of stakeholders who are working with survivors.

“Various stakeholders will work through a consensus process to set the agenda for areas of action that need to be addressed,” said researcher Dr. Anna Kitunen.

A combination of participatory design approaches will ensure both young people and community stakeholders are actively involved in the development of the action plan.

Project partners include government, non-profit organisations, the education sector, members of community, and researchers working together towards the same goal.

Some of the priorities that have already been put forward by stakeholders include:

  • Building community groups to provide safe spaces for connection and conversation
  • Involving parents and guardians as essential allies
  • Targeting at risk and hard to reach groups of young people (e.g. culturally and linguistically diverse, disengaged from school, LGBTQ+, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, refugees and migrant groups)
  • Prioritising reaching young people in “mainstream” education.

Initial consultation with the Young People’s Project Committee identified several key areas to focus on:

  • Empowerment of young people’s voices
  • Improving awareness and education of YSVA within schools and the wider community
  • Creation of safe spaces in the community
  • Addressing misconceptions and misunderstandings around YSVA
  • Engaging young people where they thrive.

Dr. Nadine McKillop, co-leader of the University of the Sunshine Coast’s Sexual Violence and Prevention Unit said preventing youth sexual violence and abuse required a holistic and comprehensive approach, and that working with the community to design local solutions would be imperative to the success of the project.

“On-ground stakeholders have been really helpful and continue to express their support for and involvement in the project,” Dr McKillop said.

The project has been funded by the Department of Justice and Attorney-General (Queensland Government).

“We know early education is key to cultural change in our communities,” Minister Shannon Fentiman said.

“And it’s fantastic to see this program is championing young Queenslanders, utilising their knowledge and experiences to better promote respectful relationships and putting an end to sexual violence.

“Respect for young women is paramount in ending violence perpetrated against them and it’s great to see the collaboration across the education sector, government, and our community organisations to put an end to youth sexual violence and abuse (YSVA).”

Dr. Erin Hurley said a co-design process meant young people were more empowered to design prevention activities and strategies of value to themselves.

“Initial workshops with young people of Bundaberg demonstrated how enthusiastic and determined they are to make a change within their community,” Dr Hurley said.

“Young people are able to confidently express the types of programs and activities they want to see in Bundaberg to support them in having safe and healthy relationships.”

The project will also draw from the expertise of stakeholders who are working across the service spectrum.

“Through a consensus process, we are consulting with local stakeholders across the Bundaberg community to understand the priorities and areas of actions we need to address,” said Dr. Carina Roemer.

“This combination of different participatory design approaches will ensure both young people and community stakeholders are actively involved and that their ideas underpin the Action Plan.”

The project team is seeking input from interested Toowoomba and Bundaberg locals keen to help inform the Action Plan, ensuring that local priorities and what young people would like to see implemented happens in their community.

Toowoomba locals can access a short survey online. There is also a short survey online for Bundaberg community members.

The surveys are open until the end of May.