Brian's story

A specialist YFS team is helping more men than ever before to realise their violent behaviour is harmful, and must be stopped.

Each week, the team of seven behaviour change facilitators in our Responsible Men program works with up to 75 men in group—from people who are homeless to men of wealth—helping them change their beliefs about power and control, and transform their attitudes and behaviours to reduce their chances of reoffending. It’s part of an integrated effort that sees YFS working with the courts, Queensland Police, probation officers and child safety officials.

Dr Brian Sullivan PhD is the practice manager of the YFS team. He and his colleagues facilitate five groups a week for 16 weeks.

“There are multiple variables involved in working to help an offender change: there’s the police, courts and parole to name a few,” Brian said. “Government and non-government, statutory and non-statutory authorities – we all need to work together to hold men accountable and keep women safe.”

“Men who do well in the program appear to become less emotionally volatile. Women’s advocates have reported that some men are listening more calmly and there are less incidences of verbal abuse. We tell the men that a sign of becoming responsible is when they comply with their domestic violence orders. We treat breaches really seriously.”

Brian and his colleagues are identifying weaknesses in the system that’s designed to protect women and children, and to hold men accounting for their violent actions.

“If a man drops out of the program or he doesn’t show up after he has had an intervention order, there don’t seem to be many systemic consequences at the moment,” Brian said. “It means the men can get away with it, and the men can read into it that domestic violence isn’t taken seriously. And when any of us turn a blind eye, the message to the women is that violence towards them doesn’t matter to the community.”

“As a system, we have to show that domestic violence does matter, and we have to side with those whose lives aren’t safe.”

Brian, whose PhD from the USA was on the effectiveness of court-mandated programs for domestic violence offenders, joined YFS in late 2016. Since the start of that year, he and his team have worked with about 360 men. Almost 200 have completed the workshops.

“All the men we work with were once boys with violent fathers or step-fathers,” he said. “Respectful male role models when they were growing up were not part of these men’s experience generally. Back then, they learned to use violence as a power and control tactic. They witnessed their fathers or step-fathers controlling their mothers to keep them oppressed and under the thumb.”

“We reach out to these men so they realise that rather than solving problems, violence hurts and hurts for the long term. The hurting ones are their partners, kids and themselves. It’s imperative to hold offenders accountable and to keep the vulnerable safe, away from violent relationships.” 

YFS also reaches out to the men’s partners, offering them a confidential service that focuses on their needs and safety. According to Brian, many men are committing the type of acts that their fathers once perpetrated.

“We try to break through their self-focus so they begin to see how their violence impacts on others,” he added.

As part of our outreach, YFS attends Beenleigh Court weekly to provide information to men attending for domestic violence matters. YFS also works with victims of domestic and family violence through our Beaudesert domestic and family violence service and Project Hera, our co-location with the Queensland Police Service high-risk Domestic Violence Unit.