Domestic and family violence (DFV) is increasingly viewed as an entrenched yet intolerable and preventable problem.

Violence and coercion continue to impact a substantial proportion of the community, especially women and children, but Griffith University stands firm in its commitment to reduce harm and build a better future for all with several key initiatives aimed at preventing violence and facilitating peaceful, just, and equitable communities.

The MATE Bystander program (Motivation Action Through Empowerment) has been running for about eight years and aims to empower people who may see, hear or sense that something isn’t right in a relationship or in a workplace, whether it be domestic violence, sexual violence, racism, discrimination, bullying or harassment.

Program Director Shaan Ross-Smith understands that sometimes as bystanders, we feel uncomfortable in these situations and don’t know what to do, so the program aims to empower people with tools, resources and knowledge to safely intervene in ways that feel okay for each individual.

Shaan Ross-Smith

MATE Program Director Shaan Ross-Smith

“It can be difficult as many of us have been given messages our whole life to ‘mind our own business’ and not get involved, but I love empowering people to unlearn that and show them they can make a huge difference in someone’s life and perhaps even save lives,” she said.

“I have a long background working in corrective services where you see the damage that’s already been done, and over time that gets very deflating

“When I started with MATE I went from responding to violence to preventing it, and I’m so proud to now see our team of 10 dedicated people who travel Australia and the world sharing our message of hope and that domestic and family violence in particular is 100 per cent preventable.”

Ms Ross-Smith and other members of her team have also recently contributed to the Queensland Police Service’s podcast series ‘Behind the Doors of Domestic Violence’ which will be available through Apple Podcasts.

The Disrupting Violence Beacon is a strategic initiative that aligns and enacts Griffith’s values and aims to be a ‘game-changer’ in influencing thinking on how our society thinks about and responds to violence.

This disruptive thinking comes from trialling innovative responses such as the ‘Be There’ app, a tool for bystanders to support those experiencing DFV developed by the MATE team and currently being evaluated by the Beacon.

The Beacon is co-led by Professor Elena Marchetti and Professor Patrick O’Leary, combining their extensive research expertise in law, social work, and criminology.

Professor Marchetti has a strong focus on advocating for justice for First Nations peoples and Professor O’Leary works internationally and locally to enhance child protection and lower instances of DFV, with both active in discussions to improve responses to DFV with government and non-government stakeholders.

They are supported by a committed team, including two research fellows: Dr Amy Young who brings her extensive experience in DFV interventions for women and children in the aftermath of violence, and Dr Ana Borges-Jelenic, a registered psychologist with a particular focus on the needs and experiences of culturally and linguistically diverse and migrant women who have experienced violence in Australia.

In fixing the problem before it even starts, Associate Professor Timo Dietrich and his multidisciplinary team have been developing the BioBot Academy – a digital platform that provides gamified and evidence-based education resources to primary school children.

Associate Professor Timo Dietrich

Associate Professor Timo Dietrich

It helps develop important life skills by emphasising positive behaviours and relationships, thereby increasing social and emotional learning skills, which evidence has shown can act as a preventative to domestic violence issues arising in later life.

Associate Professor Dietrich said almost 75 per cent of children experience at least one bullying-like behaviour within a year, but reducing bullying can help reduce adult criminality, antisocial behaviour, and future violence.

“Biobot Academy is an exciting quest for teachers and their primary school students to create a kinder world by reducing antisocial behaviours while promoting prosocial behaviours and improving the overall school climate,” he said.

“Primary schools are an excellent place to prevent and reduce bullying, and the Biobot Academy team is on a mission to build a world where kindness is not just a random act but a way of life.”

16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
UN Sustainable Development Goals 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions