Australia and the US collaborate to reduce violence against women

April 16 / 179

Supporting, and in some cases saving, people in abusive intimate relationships was the subject of a recent collaborative event between MDHS’s Professor Kelsey Hegarty, and researchers at Johns Hopkins University (JHU).

Professor Hegarty and JHU’s Dr Nancy Glass – as guests of the Australian Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission Caroline Millar - discussed how technology was being used to reduce violence against women in Australia and the United States.

Both researchers said the size of the problem was huge, citing statistics showing one in six Australian women had experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner, and that women were most vulnerable to being killed by their partner as they tried to leave an abusive relationship.

They also acknowledged significant differences in risk factors from weapons, with 89 guns for every 100 Americans, compared with 15 guns for every 100 Australians.

Professor Hegarty shared success stories about a healthy relationship and decision aid tool used by women in abusive relationships and health care workers to support women and their children on a pathway to safety. A decision aid can also assist with individualized safety action plans, linking women to local resources. 

One Australian user offered the feedback that “the website gave me a place to be honest so I could clearly make a decision I had been avoiding and has put myself and my children in a safer environment. I am now setting a better example for what they can have in relationships”. 

The tool is based on an Internet Resource for Intervention and Safety (IRIS) trial underway in the USA. 

Professor Hegarty says both tools provide feedback about the level of danger a user may be in, given the information and answers they submit.  Those trialling the resource reported that they found the plan helpful, and many were able to safely leave abusive relationships.

Australia’s version of the IRIS trial is called I-DECIDE About My Relationship. I-DECIDE is currently being trialed, and allows women to self-reflect on the health of their relationships, become more informed about what might help them, and plan for their safety and well-being. 

The team of researchers behind I-DECIDE are from general practice, social work, women’s health, nursing, and health technology backgrounds.

More resources are becoming available and studies are being done to help women in these dangerous situations.

“Men can be in harmful relationships as well,” Professor Hegarty says, “but it’s much more common for men to abuse women".

“A self-identification and reflection tool for those men who abuse their partners is also being created, that might include using heart rate, voice level and pacing as warning signs. If it notices this pattern, the tool can send a message to remind the abuser to take a few minutes and remove themselves from the situation.”

Funding is currently being sought for the development.


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