Reducing family violence through education for CALD young people

Delivery of community legal education to help culturally and linguistically diverse young people increase their literacy on family violence issues and shift attitudes that allow it to occur.

Recipient
Peninsula Community Legal Centre
Peninsula Community Legal Centre
Round
2021/22
Amount
$20,000
Status
Completed
Family violence
Young people
Cultural and linguistic diversity
Grants
Legal capability

Case study

Bringing the drama to build legal capability

Performance as a tool for change is empowering young adults through an innovative approach to family violence legal education.

Peninsula Community Legal Centre (PCLC) is creating waves in the school sector with a new legal education program, ‘This is not who I want to be’. With support from a VLF Community Legal Grant, PCLC developed the performance for high school students concerning family violence issues that particularly affect young people from multicultural communities.

PCLC offers free legal advice to people who live, work or study within the southeast of Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula. The service provides advice on legal issues and runs ongoing assistance targeted to clients who are experiencing disadvantage.

Family violence, forced marriage and teenagers

When it comes to service provision, PCLC reports family violence and family law as the primary concern people seek assistance for, with roughly half of clients grappling with family violence. Notably, a third of those clients come from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD)backgrounds, indicating a need for targeted legal education in these communities.

PCLC has been steadfast in its efforts to support people from a diverse range of backgrounds with legal education, particularly women. In 2021, they launched the Strengthening Legal Pathways for CALD Women project, funded by a VLF Community Legal Grant. This initiative focused on addressing significant barriers women in multicultural communities face in accessing justice and legal education on family violence.

Through feedback from this program, their provision of services and echoed in Uniting's Komak program, PCLC noticed teenage girls still at secondary school are already experiencing controlling relationships and family violence. There was also a large amount of negative and concerning behaviours exhibited by teenage boys, supporting concern about young people, not just adults, participating, perpetuating and experiencing family violence.

“After seeing the amount of concern, but also experiencing resistance in adults in our other efforts, we realised we needed to do something creative with younger people while they’re still open to discussing these concepts,” said Kirsten Young, the Community Engagement, Education and Legal Policy Officer at PCLC.

Bringing the drama by workshopping with the professionals

In partnership with Uniting Komak, PCLC launched an initiative to provide preventive family violence legal education to secondary students. Recognising the challenge of engaging students PCLC lawyer Engy Abdelsalam proposed using theatre to present the material, rather than typical, legalistic information.

To ensure the appropriateness of the project material and its delivery, PCLC collaborated with people working in the community legal sector, specialist organisations assisting forced marriage victims and survivors, and groups delivering educational programs for young people from multicultural communities. There was a consensus from those consulted that storytelling was the most effective method for conveying complex legal information to a young audience, particularly those who are still learning English.

PCLC also delved into research on effective storytelling methods globally recognised for educating on human rights issues. They discovered Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, renowned for its participatory and transformative approach to addressing oppression within communities.

(L-R) Contributors to the creative project Kirsten Young, Jackson Cross, Maree Barnett, Ian Frost, Sian Dowler and Engy Abdelsalam.

As the project script took form, it centred around a family experiencing various forms of family violence, including forced marriage. PCLC developed a preliminary script, before finding a local creative group of freelance professional artists led by theatrical consultant, Tara Leigh Dowler. With a team comprising actors, a director, a trauma-informed consultant, and PCLC representatives Kirsten and Engy, the performance evolved to better convey its message. Engy's accidental inclusion as a lawyer character within the script facilitated a seamless integration of legal information, making it more accessible to the audience than the initial script.

The performance illustrates how four characters choose to take responsibility for their actions and challenge the dynamics of violence, while others don't. Audience participation is actively encouraged, prompting students to recognise various forms of family violence, challenge character behaviours, and explore avenues for change by seeking help. Themes of self-reflection on agency, choice, change, and growth are interwoven throughout the performance. Students are invited to contemplate how cultural and societal norms influence behaviour and are urged to challenge underlying assumptions about family violence.

Confronting ingrained attitudes and adapting to resistance

PCLC staff encountered various challenges while delivering the performances in schools, due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter. Additionally, they had to navigate resistance from some students during the sessions.

“In some of the performances, we noticed that the female students weren't very vocal, and were struggling to participate.” Kirsten identified. “And that happened, particularly in the sessions where some of the male students were dominating the discussions, and very enthusiastically defending the abusive behaviours of the two male characters.”

In collaboration with some schools, separate sessions were organised for male and female students. This led to female students being much more vocal and participatory. However, the majority of the performances were of mixed gender. This provided a great opportunity for students to see negative gender ideas amongst their peers, and then learn how those ideas could be challenged productively and safely.

Delivery of the performance in front of students.
“Once the performance starts, and the character of the father starts shouting at the mother, all of the chatter stops. The audience is drawn into the story in a very intense way. So right from the first scene, they're hooked. And they continue to engage with the performance throughout.” Kirsten Young, PCLC Community Engagement, Education and Legal Policy Officer.

Though entrenched attitudes can be difficult to change, Kirsten highlighted that open dialogue is vital to helping shift them. She stated, “The project has planted a seed to start a hugely important conversation amongst the students who have seen it, about those negative behaviours and gender stereotypes that underlie and lead to family violence.”

Power of performance in delivering legal education

The project involved 14 theatre performances in 4 schools, reaching over 335 students. Equipping students with information about their rights, obligations, and available support services empowers them to recognise and address negative attitudes.

Schools have reported that students continue to discuss the performance months later, indicating its lasting impact, with teachers and students indicating the performance was a great way to engage students while providing education about important legal information.

“My team thought this was one of the best external programs that we have ever hosted.” Head of Wellbeing at one of the schools where the performances was conducted.

The performance was so powerful it led to an invitation for PCLC to work with a school to establish a dedicated school lawyer. The school-based lawyer will serve as an on-site expert, aiding students and conducting community legal education sessions for both students and staff. As one of the biggest schools in the area, this presents a significant opportunity to provide legal education and support to students facing various challenges.

PCLC’s impact beyond the classroom

The project has yielded valuable insights for PCLC on the effective delivery of legal information. Using professional actors enabled them to instantly engage the audience in a new way. Additionally, the partnership with the trauma-informed consultant and theatre group proved invaluable to the project.

Engy commended the contributions of the creative team, noting their input was essential to the project’s effectiveness. “We could see how these abstract ideas that we were discussing in the workshops, once they were put in practice, could transform the whole experience. If we hadn't gone through that process of workshopping, we wouldn’t have had the same results.”

PCLC has been contacted by other organisations, including the University of Melbourne, seeking more information or potential collaboration. Kirsten emphasises that a budget for professional actors is often unattainable for many community organisations, and stresses that the performance or those similar could be done with volunteers or other staff in an organisation.

Encore, encore! ‘This is not who I want to be’ continues to perform

With requests from schools for more performances, PCLC has decided to continue the project into 2024 alongside partner Uniting Komak. Now in the second year of delivery, they have 20 performances under their belt in four different schools, reaching close to 500 students so far.

For Kirsten and Engy, what’s on the horizon is a focus on how they can incorporate lessons from this project, such as storytelling and theatre, into their work at PCLC and explore other creative ways to increase engagement to provide community legal education.

 

“The project has planted a seed to start a hugely important conversation.” Kirsten Young, Community Engagement, Education and Legal Policy Officer at PCLC.

Discover the change your project could kickstart with a VLF Grant

Want to hear from Kirsten and Engy? Watch our Enhancing Engagement webinar below. If you would like to know more about the project, including receiving a copy of the script, please contact PCLC.

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