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Engaged Research in Action: Informing Sexual and Domestic Violence Practice and Prevention

Kathy Prentice and Tania Signal

Abstract: The counselling staff at Phoenix House understand research to mean ‘finding out’ and therefore use research in their everyday practice. The work is guided by robust rationales and is based on using practice experiences to inform research, and research to improve practice, policy and service delivery. This chapter explores the ten-year partnership between practitioners in a sexual violence intervention/ prevention program in rural Queensland and academics of CQUniversity. It describes how engaged research has been an integral part of an action learning cycle, which ensures innovative services are delivered within an evidence-based framework, to achieve the best possible outcomes for service users. It concludes that engaged research contributes to community resilience by ensuring services are effective.

Madsen, Wendy, Lynette Costigan, and Sarah McNicol, eds. Community Resilience, Universities and Engaged Research for Today’s World. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. doi: 10.1057/9781137481054.0007.


While Bundaberg is an environmentally diverse and beautiful region, it is also an area of high socioeconomic disadvantage. The Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA), a summation of the social and economic conditions within geographic locations Australia wide (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], 2011), identifies 65.3 per cent of the population of Burnett within quintile one (the most disadvantaged) with only 1.9 per cent in quintile five (least disadvantaged). Bundaberg itself has 46.8 per cent within quintile one and 0.8 per cent in quintile five. Such disadvantage is related to poverty, unemployment and lack of housing. There have been a number of studies that link such structural disadvantage and violence (Jaffee, Caspi, Moffitt, Polo-Tomas, & Taylor, 2007), which exacerbate the vulnerability of disadvantaged communities. This creates the ‘perfect storm’ for poly-victimisation, the experience of multiple, co-occurring and often ongoing forms of victimisation: child abuse; domestic and family violence; neglect; physical and sexual assault; community violence; socioeconomic poverty; and racism (Wood, 2008). Poly-victimisation is strongly associated with chronic and complex poor health outcomes, high risk behaviours and premature death (Felitti & Anda, 2010).

The Bundaberg region has one further disadvantage. Over the past three years, it has experienced significant natural disaster events that have resulted in numerous community issues. Two major floods, one resulting in the greatest flooding of the Burnett River on record, have caused major social problems for residents across the region. The Bundaberg Social Impact Assessment identified a number of major factors that are still impacting on families in the region today post-floods. These include emotional trauma, financial stress, isolation and hyper vigilance surrounding future rain events (Bundaberg City Council, 2013).

This chapter explores how engaged research has been a key part of the activities of a non-government organisation in the Bundaberg region as part of addressing sexual and domestic violence. It first provides an overview of Phoenix House and its activities, including the integral part engaged research has played in these activities. Three exemplars are then outlined as a means of demonstrating how engaged research can be used to promote primary, secondary and tertiary prevention programs, and ultimately the resilience of the community.

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