How supporting bystanders of coercive control can save lives

26 Jul 2022

Domestic and Family Violence (DFV) is a heartbreaking, confusing, and complex problem that is close to the hearts of many Australians. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates one in six women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of a cohabiting partner, with one in six also having experienced abuse before the age of 15.

Intimate partner violence causes more illness, disability, and death than any other risk factor for women aged 25-44. This problem is getting worse, with Queensland University of Technology data showing that most DFV service providers saw a rise in the instances and severity of violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through ongoing conversations with the Queensland Government around domestic violence strategy and corporate responsibility, Telstra Purple recognised a glaring gap in how DFV was being addressed.

While there are many amazing initiatives and organisations addressing DFV, they are often focused on providing support after the violence occurs. Fewer resources have been available for initiatives that aim to prevent violence from happening. 

“I started working in DFV after 15 years in the prison system. I felt I was working upstream where the violence had already occurred, and people’s lives had been destroyed,” says Shaan Ross-Smith, Director, MATE Bystander Violence Prevention Program at Griffith University. “I really wanted to go downstream and better understand how we could prevent violence from occurring in the first place. We respond to crisis well, but we need to shift and shape our culture towards prevention if we’re going to improve outcomes.”

That’s why Telstra Purple partnered with the Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney-General (DJAG) and the Griffith University MATE bystander program (MATE) to develop and launch the ‘Be there’ mobile application. ‘Be there’ is a one-of-a-kind app that provides tools to help family and friends of DFV victims recognise abuse and offer support in a positive and impactful way.

Bringing people and purpose together

As a novel concept that’s largely unexplored, Telstra Purple led an eight-week discovery engagement to deeply understand and collaboratively design a digital concept and future vision for bystanders. Delivered 100% remotely and using a co-design methodology, Telstra Purple engaged with over 90 stakeholders and partners across the domestic violence sector, facilitated through existing relationships with DJAG and MATE bystanders. 

The research highlighted significant nuance and complexities amongst bystanders. Traditional analysis has provided demographic frameworks to compartmentalise bystander cohorts but has fallen short in framing how they differ on behaviour and likelihood to safely intervene.

In response, Telstra Purple developed nine archetypes to classify these differing behaviours. These bystander ‘types’ are non-binary, inclusive, and focus on the interplay of intrinsic motivations and extrinsic barriers. They’re also dynamic, as one bystander might relate to multiple different archetypes at different stages of the process. 

Conversations with bystanders and stakeholders guided every built into the app. If features received mixed feedback, Telstra Purple updated the application to address this, ultimately forging the most impactful and bystander-first approach possible.

The project gained full support and input from a variety of organisations, including the not-for-profit DFV sector in Queensland, such as DVConnect, national peak bodies, and the Queensland Police Service.

“All of the partners were deeply committed to making a difference, says Cynthia Kennedy, Director, Partnerships and Engagement at the Department of Justice and Attorney-General. “Working together, we’ve produced a practical tool that will support people to take action”.

How supporting bystanders of coercive control can save lives

Putting victims and bystanders first

‘Be there’ empowers bystanders to recognise the signs of violence and safely intervene where possible. It integrates DJAG’s insight, the DFV sector’s expert knowledge and experience and Griffith’s MATE violence prevention program, which actively raises awareness around how abuse is embedded in our culture through a range of training opportunities and events.

Telstra Purple built the app with accessibility and practicality in mind; giving bystanders the right tools to recognise the signs of violence and safely intervene (where possible) without overloading them with information.

‘Be there’ is compatible with both Android and iOS and is split into three pillars:

  1. Bite-sized, easy-to-digest information to help bystanders educate themselves, including articles from DFV experts and information to help assess situations.
  2. Activities and initiatives that prompt bystanders to safely and confidently intervene at the right time
  3. Tools to keep bystanders engaged, with information to help provide mental and emotional support

Focusing on outcomes

While the app has only been available for a few months, the response from bystanders and the community has been overwhelmingly positive. It has a 4.5/5 rating on Apple’s App Store, with in-app feedback praising the way the app provides expert guidance and offers insight on appropriate, tangible actions. 

Feedback has been especially positive in remote areas, with users noting there is no other service available in their locations.

Planning for a better future

Be There is designed to change the way we think about domestic violence. By using accessible and inclusive language and nudging towards action, we guide bystanders on a journey of learning by doing. 

DFV is a matter of significant importance for Telstra’s entire organisation. We’re proud of our contribution to the app, considering its potential to drive remarkable results for some of our most vulnerable people. 

“These are the kinds of projects that we love to be engaged with,” says Rod Sampera, Principal Consultant (Design) at Telstra Purple. “We started with a small idea, received the funding to develop it into something more tangible, and delivered support that people really needed.”

The next steps for Griffith MATE is to spread awareness of the app to as many people as possible. The team plans to travel to regional and remote areas in Queensland and conduct workshops on how to use the app, as a way to engage communities. 

Be There represents an exciting opportunity to make a real difference and target DFV prevention like never before. As more people use the platform, we can leverage the anonymous data to better understand the impact of bystanders in the community and deliver better outcomes. 

Through regular engagement with the DFV community and by spreading the message far and wide, the app will empower bystanders to be someone who does something, which shifts culture and changes the world. 

In the long term, our hope is to see a generational shift towards a Queensland free from domestic violence. 

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