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1994 award winners

Main winning projects

Reducing Violence, Crime and Fear in the Gay and Lesbian Community

Reducing Violence, Crime and Fear in the Gay and Lesbian Community, a program organised by the Community Safety Development Branch of the NSW Police Service, has been in operation since 1990. The project deals with the particularly difficult area of "hate" crime against a particular minority group, through a multi-pronged approach covering communication, community education, and liaison between the police and the community. Lesbians and gays in many areas are subjected to systematic harassment and physical assault simply because they are lesbian or gay.

In brief, the program aims to identify the nature, causes and extent of violence against gays and lesbians; to mobilise awareness, understanding, commitment and action on homophobic violence; and to develop, implement, monitor and evaluate programs, policies, procedures and operations towards improved safety and feelings of safety for gays and lesbians. It operates primarily through awareness raising and improved policing, designed to increase awareness of and sensitivity to the issue of homophobic violence for the gay/lesbian community, the police, and the general public.

Violence against gays and lesbians combines some of the most terrifying and most widely feared aspects of violent crime: in particular, the possibility of random and unpredictable attacks which can be of homicidal intensity, and from which, due to the involvement of a group in the attack, the chances of avoiding serious injury may be slight.

One survey showed that in a twelve-month period gay men were at least four times more likely than men from the general population to experience an assault, while lesbians were at least six times more likely than other women to experience an assault. The majority of victims of homophobic violence are alone when attacked, and the majority of assailants are male, acting in groups of between two and five. Many cases were not reported, largely due to a belief that police could not assist.

Following commencement of the program, reported levels of homophobic violence in the immediate area dropped significantly, and the reporting of incidents to police increased. As a result of the work done by the New South Wales Police Service in this field, it has become a world leader and the program has received international news coverage. Evaluation data indicate that the program can be replicated effectively elsewhere, and action is already in train to extend the program to other areas of New South Wales.

In addition to specifically aiming to reduce the gay, lesbian and heterosexual communities' tolerance or acceptance of violence and harassment against gays and lesbians, a large element of the police program addressed the problem of police attitudes. In particular, the program seeks to:

  • encourage a joint community and police problem-solving approach at local and corporate level;
  • increase the access of gays and lesbians to sensitive and professional policing services which are responsive to this type of violence; and
  • increase police accountability for preventing, reducing and responding to anti gay/lesbian violence.

The essential strategy is community liaison and consultation. The Police Service initially appointed four Police Gay/Lesbian Liaison Officers in inner city areas of Sydney. Coverage increased annually until in 1994 more than half the State's police stations had liaison officers in attendance. Police Gay/Lesbian Anti-Violence Consultative Groups were also formed in critical locations. These currently operate in Newtown, Newcastle, Lismore, Surry Hills and Wollongong.

The program included a wide-ranging information and community education campaign in the early stages, promoting national and international awareness of the problem. As a result of the close rapport developed with the media through 1990 to 1992, the issue received national coverage through major media outlets. International coverage of the NSW police strategies has included the media in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Sweden, France, Japan and Ireland.

An important element of the program is that Police commitment is highly visible. In 1992 a Police Working Party was established to oversee police initiatives. Police initiated a stall dealing with anti-gay/lesbian violence at World AIDS Day and at the Mardi Gras Fair Day, and publicly presented the Mardi Gras Association with an award for crowd control and safety in 1991. They also contributed to a "Truth or Dare" video developed by inner-city people to address homophobia.

Following the involvement of school-age boys in several murders of gay men, the police project placed great emphasis on working with the Department of School Education and, later, the Catholic Education Office.

Phase 2 of the project, from 1992 to 1994, involved structural reforms and widespread community and police initiatives. Police implemented a coordinated training strategy including a Patrol Commanders' Workshop and an On the Job Police Training Package, dealing with police relations with the homosexual community, for use in patrols. The number of liaison offers was increased dramatically, the Department of School Education set up a working group to turn the school homophobia project into a comprehensive package, and a major survey on anti-lesbian violence was carried out. Changes to the Computerised Operational Policing System ensured more accurate collection of hate crimes data, and enabled community bodies to access the data. The project also provided assistance to other organisations which were attempting to respond to homophobic violence.

Phase 3 of the project, 1994-95, was directed towards the production of a formal strategic plan, based on the available research and community consultation.

Though the sample size is perhaps too small for major generalisations, data compiled by police, community groups and a gay newspaper all indicate a significant reduction in actual assaults on gays and lesbians, and approximately double the level of reporting of incidents to the police. Police research into the percentage of lesbians experiencing physical assault in the previous twelve months showed a drop from 18 per cent (N=300) in 1990-91 to 12 per cent (N=259) in 1993-94. The number of anti-gay assaults as a proportion of total street assaults declined from 60 per cent in 1990 to 46 per cent in 1991, though the total number of street assaults, at 150 and 149 respectively, remained almost the same.

Community research by the Gay and Lesbian Lobby between 1988 and 1993 showed a similar trend from about 1991 on, with physical assaults reported to them dropping by more than 50 per cent between 1991-92 and 1992-93. A newspaper reader sample survey over 1993 and 1994 showed that the percentage of gays and lesbians, as a whole, who had experienced an assault in the previous twelve months had halved again, from 15 per cent in 1993 to 7.5 per cent in 1994. Though these figures are approximate, there seems to be little doubt that the gay and lesbian community registered a considerable improvement over the term of the project.

Other benefits have been a general increase in awareness of the problem within the gay and lesbian community and the public at large; increased gay and lesbian cohesion, community support and knowledge of safety procedures; and the development of policy and planning commitment to change.

Paralleling the Police program, and complementing it, was the program developed by the Gay and Lesbian Lobby in Sydney, which also commenced operation in 1990.

The Lesbian and Gay Anti-Violence Project

The Lesbian and Gay Anti-Violence Project (AVP), initiated by the Gay and Lesbian Lobby to deal with the problem of violence against the Darlinghurst gay and lesbian community, was equal first prize winner for 1994. Like the NSW Police Service program, this project also encourages increased awareness of the problem, promotes community cohesion and support, works with survivors, and provides education into safe behaviours and self-defence. The project backs up its work with research and provides input into government strategies.

The project is a statewide, community-based New South Wales initiative, established in 1990 in response to increasing levels of violence against gays and lesbians. It is funded through the Health Promotion Unit of the NSW Health Department. Following the success of the pilot program, the initial one-year grant was renewed on a longer-term basis. The project also receives funding and a rental subsidy from the South Sydney City Council, and occasional grants from other government agencies. About 40 per cent of its budget, however, is raised through community fund-raising activities; and it receives additional staffing assistance from volunteers and student placement programs.

The project aims to reduce violence against gays and lesbians through:

  • education and awareness campaigns to help the gay and lesbian community to make appropriate and safe responses to threats and acts of violence against them;
  • seminars and workshops promoting awareness of hate crimes in the gay and lesbian community and the general public;
  • self-defence programs;
  • monitoring the level of violence by encouraging the reporting of all attacks and threats to the AVP and to the police;
  • working with governments and the wider community on strategies to reduce violence;
  • research into hate-related violence;
  • support for survivors of violence, including referral to appropriate health, counselling and legal services; and
  • provision of assistance to survivors in negotiating the health, legal and criminal justice systems.

The project's work includes training and information sessions for different groups in the community, the preparation of education and training materials for identified professional groups, and the development of other violence prevention strategies.

Under these general categories, the project has developed a variety of projects. One of its strengths is the extent to which it cultivated and captured wide-ranging interest. In 1992 the project's activities included a "Be Streetsmart" education campaign, a "Whistle Education" campaign (which included the distribution of whistles), and an AVP promotional campaign. It maintains a database of all lesbian and gay organisations and interested individuals in New South Wales, and uses it to distribute quarterly newsletters and other material, such as information on how to respond to violence against gays and lesbians, whether physical or verbal. There is a professional reference group, which writes articles for relevant academic and professional journals, produces and circulates annual "Violence Monitoring Reports", encourages government agencies to document all individual cases of homophobic violence. Evaluation of these efforts is carried out by undertaking surveys.

These surveys have confirmed the effectiveness of the project. One survey, of 211 lesbians and gays at the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Fair Day in 1993, revealed that 92 per cent of respondents had heard of the project, 71 per cent had seen AVP promotional materials and 98 per cent were familiar with the use of whistles. Seventy per cent of the sample were prepared to report the incident to the police if they were physically assaulted and, unlike earlier years, only a small fraction believed that the police would be hostile and unable to assist.

In addition to the highly successful "Whistle Education" campaign, which reached almost 100 per cent of the community and resulted in 42 per cent of those surveyed in 1993 carrying whistles, the practical support provided to gays and lesbians included self-defence courses and kits on homophobia and violence, and on countering homophobic violence, for use in youth and community services and for students studying the Personal Development and Physical Education Syllabus in high schools.

In January 1994 the AVP released the third report in its "Streetwatch" series, dedicated to the fifteen men who had died from violent hate crimes since the first "Streetwatch" study in 1989. Despite the difficulties of comparing the results of several different surveys, it was evident from the results that attitudes within and about the gay and lesbian community had improved considerably and more survivors of incidents were inclined to report in the belief that the police would be able to help. Physical attacks between November 1991 and June 1993, however, had more than halved.

By 1995 the project incorporated a wide variety of sub-projects. These included:

  • Racism and homophobia
    The Australian Arts Council funded the AVP to coordinate a project on the combined themes of racism and homophobia. The AVP brought together Koori and Asian gay and lesbian groups, both of which are producing art work and visual media work to assist in awareness raising.
  • Gay and lesbian roadshow
    The AVP has been involved in an initiative whereby Sydney gay and lesbian organisations visit country areas to identify the issues for gays and lesbians throughout New South Wales, in particular in the rural cities. The project also involves the Anti Discrimination Board, the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby and the AIDS Council of New South Wales Rural Project.
  • People living with HIV/AIDS Public Housing Project
    Following reports of violence and harassment against people living with HIV/AIDS and gays and lesbians in public housing estates, the AVP commenced a project to document the problem and to work with the Department of Housing and Public Housing Tenancy to develop policies and strategies to prevent ongoing incidents.
  • Violence against lesbians
    The AVP recently completed a broad campaign to raise the visibility of lesbians generally and to broaden awareness of the violence and harassment facing lesbians. The final stage of the project was the preparation of a training package for lesbians and service providers. The first stage of the project was funded by the Commonwealth Office of the Status of Women and the second by the NSW Ministry of Status and Advancement of Women.
  • Violence in lesbian and gay relationships
    In October 1994 the AVP was involved in a conference to address the scarcity of information, either in Australia or internationally, about violence, including domestic violence and sexual assault, in gay and lesbian relationships. The conference papers are being published.
  • Media guide
    The AVP is currently producing a media guide to provide a national resource on the issues of hate crimes, homophobia and violence against lesbians and gays. It will be available from the AVP.

NSW Department of School Education Anti-Violence Initiatives

The NSW Department of School Education won a special award for its integrated approach to violence through a range of school-based projects and programs. These included the development of anti-violence strategies which provided a new focus on violence, and the encouragement of school programs covering such strategies as dispute resolution and alternative forms of non-violent problem solving, behaviour management for aggressive children, adolescent programs, and the provision of information about domestic violence.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s parents, teachers and the government had become extremely concerned about the apparently escalating levels of public violence in schools in the New South Wales education system. Young people of school age were also frequently involved in violent incidents elsewhere.

To address these problems, the New South Wales Department of School Education in the 1993-94 budget provided $5 million for initiatives to counter violence and anti-social behaviour in NSW schools. This enabled the development of strategies and programs with the potential to influence a very large and very vulnerable section of the community at a critical age, and with the ability to address violence from a multiplicity of relevant viewpoints. The program commenced in 1994 with the employment of 102 additional staff, an allocation of funds to each region for initiatives to suit local needs, and funds to the Guidance and Student Welfare Unit in the state office to coordinate with the regions those projects of statewide significance. The program is not confined to schools, and some projects operate in cooperation with other government agencies and community bodies.

The Department adopted a systematic and integrated approach, linking the whole system of government schools and all levels within that system. Its strategy highlighted specific types of anti-violence initiatives which were eligible for additional funding; emphasised the need to integrate these initiatives with other departmental programs, including child protection, anti-racism, anti-discrimination and girls' education programs; and complemented and reinforced relevant programs of other agencies.

The initial allocation of funding provided for $50 000 to review existing programs and refocus them where necessary so that they targeted the reduction of violence. Additional specialist staff were appointed to work in targetted programs which included behaviour disordered students and the Aboriginal community. Extra school counsellors, teachers' aides and community liaison officers were appointed according to need.

In effect, the program addresses a twofold problem: on the one hand, the immediate problems of street and schoolyard violence involving young people; on the other, the use of violence as a problem-solving device generally-usually learned in childhood in the home and often demonstrated in domestic relationships. The program is based on the premise that, in both instances, violent responses appear to be exacerbated by lack of knowledge about alternative problem-solving and dispute resolution techniques. The Department estimates that the benefits will reach all the State's students and teachers as well as other members of the school community-an estimated 800 000 people.

Projects such as the Home School Collaboration Project in Metropolitan West Region and the Strategies for Safer Schools are producing material for each school in the State and helping to increase general awareness and skills in behaviour management. The trialling of mediation processes in sixteen schools through the Dispute Resolution Project has produced students trained as peer mediators who are able to implement peer mediation processes in their schools with the support of teachers who are accredited community mediators.

Over a twelve-month period, the program resulted in hundreds of new and upgraded programs in schools. These involved alternative education, behaviour management, community participation, mediation training, staff development and organised positive experiences. In the regions, a total of 674 new and 158 enhanced programs were developed. In collaboration with the State Office and the regions, the Department completed a staff development program, Strategies for Safer Schools. Community Justice Centres assisted with a pilot program training students as peer mediators. Curriculum support materials to assist in the development of the social skills required for non-violent conflict resolution were almost completed, and a program to investigate the value of early intervention started.

Communication between regions and State Office has been strengthened, and this has brought about wider dissemination of ideas and information. A strong message is now being delivered through government schools across the State, that it is important to find ways of resolving conflict which do not involve violent acts. Projects within the framework of the anti-violence strategies include:

  • new primary and secondary curriculum support materials;
  • a pilot program to develop home-school collaboration and increase the involvement of parents of very young children;
  • a joint initiative with the Law Foundation of NSW to train students to conduct forums for their peers on a number of community issues;
  • a mediation training program;
  • a training course for community liaison officers; and
  • a video and teaching notes addressing discrimination, with a new anti-discrimination policy and associated grievance procedures.

An important element in the NSW program has been the emphasis on independent evaluation. The Guidance and Student Welfare Unit of the NSW Department of School Education was given responsibility for reporting on the statewide initiatives, and some projects have been subject to a detailed evaluation.

Though the formal evaluation report is not yet finalised, and many projects are still in the early stages, evidence from some of the longer-established projects suggests that the program is effective. A survey of the Hunter Adolescent Support Unit, for example, reported a high level of success in providing participants with skills in alternatives to violence. The Juvenile Alternative School Program at Eastlakes reported a dramatic increase in attendance and positive changes to levels of violence in the home. James Busby High School reported a 34 per cent drop in suspensions for violence since their project's inception in 1991. In 1993-94, out of forty-six students suspended, twenty-eight did not re-offend. The Northgong Special Support Unit also reported success with its behaviour modification program: out of twenty-five students involved, only one re-offended.

In 1995 the program anticipates the release of formal reports on the strategy, descriptions of "best practice" in this area, and manuals for student learning.

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