Fellowship explores police response to LGBTI domestic violence

23 Mar 2018


Churchill Fellowship recipient Senior Constable Ben Bjarnesen visited four countries, seven police departments and 15 community support organisations last year, conducting research with the aim of enhancing the Service’s response to domestic violence (DV) within the LGBTI community.

The Fortitude Valley general duties officer is the coordinator of the Queensland Police Service (QPS) LGBTI Support Network and the district coordinator for the LGBTI Liaison Officer Program. He was one of 106 successful applicants awarded the 2016 Churchill Fellowship, which provides an opportunity for Australians to travel overseas to conduct research in their chosen field that is not readily available in this country.

His travel to the US, UK, Canada and the Netherlands between September and November 2017 gave him valuable insight into issues surrounding domestic violence in LGBTI communities and best practice in the policing response.

He found that while the impact on victims and families was significant, under-reporting of domestic violence was a common problem in LGBTI relationships the world over.

“Internationally, it appears the most common factor stopping LGBTI people from reporting DV and hate crimes is historical events involving negative interactions with police. They fear they will not be taken seriously or treated appropriately or respectfully,” Senior Constable Bjarnesen said.

“As well, DV is often perceived in the public eye as being a problem of heterosexual relationships, with the classic portrayal of men being the perpetrators and women and children being the victims. LGBTI people are less likely to identify with this scenario and may not believe that support is available to them.

“Another common concern is that they will be ‘outed’ to their family, friends or workplace if they make a report.”

With research indicating that LGBTI relationships suffer significantly higher rates of DV compared with heterosexual couples—some studies estimate some degree of abuse in as high as 50% of same-sex relationships—the need to overcome these barriers and gain the trust of LGBTI people is critical and urgent.

Senior Constable Bjarnesen said he found some impressive examples of best practice in his overseas travels.

“Washington DC’s Metropolitan Police Department is home to the Special Liaison Branch which is a full-time branch comprising not just an LGBT Liaison Unit (LGBTLU), but also an Asian Liaison Unit, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Liaison Unit, and Latino Liaison Unit.

“It is mandatory for first responders to contact the LGBTLU in any incident where a victim identifies as LBGTI. Unit members respond to these incidents when on duty, or within 24 hours if not. They also conduct public education campaigns and provide a 24hr on-call officer to answer inquiries from the LGBTI community and fellow officers alike.

He said Police Scotland was also a stand-out with its proactive approach to preventing domestic violence.

“Officers from the local Domestic Abuse Investigation Unit proactively attend the addresses of the partners of high-risk DV perpetrators to see if they want to report DV or would like referrals to other agencies. This assures potential victims that police are looking out for them and lets perpetrators know police are watching them. They also notify victims when a perpetrator is released from custody.

“Police Scotland also introduced online reporting for DV in 2008. The ability for LGBTI community members to report violence online, without having to face the fear of telling their story in person, allows police to appropriately respond earlier before it escalates further.  

Senior Constable Bjarnesen said being given the chance to travel and conduct research overseas was an amazing opportunity.

“I thought I had a fair idea about the issues and strategies surrounding domestic violence, but I’ve been able to learn things and make connections that I would never have been able to without the support of the QPS and the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. It’s been a lot of work, but incredibly worthwhile,” Senior Constable Bjarnesen said.

CEO of the Churchill Trust, Adam Davey says that at the heart of the Fellowship is the passion and drive that Fellows possess, and like Ben are all determined to make a difference for Australia and it is these Churchillian characteristics that the Trust looks for in their applicants at interview.

“What is great about the Churchill Fellowship is that it allows the applicant to create the project they wish to investigate, so they can address what is important and beneficial for their specific community, and this often aligns with issues of local, regional or national importance,” said Mr Davey.

“Fellows return from this life-changing experience enthusiastic and unwavering in the belief that they will make an impact, and while progress can take time, the Fellowship is well-known to propel our Fellows towards achievements that are truly inspiring.”

Mr Davey said he encourages Australians from diverse backgrounds to apply for this unique award.

“Our Fellows are from all walks of life, some are experienced veterans in their field while others are ambitious people forging a new direction, all striving to achieve change,” he said.

“Irrespective of industry, area and experience, we encourage Australians with a passion and an idea that could help improve and build knowledge in Australia, to apply for a Churchill Fellowship.”

The Churchill Fellowship is awarded to more than 100 Australians each year, enabling them to travel to countries around the world to meet and work with leaders, influencers and innovators that will see them gain knowledge and experience for the betterment of themselves, their industry or community and Australia. 

“While you could research what is happening overseas online, returning Fellows consistently report that having the chance to fully immerse in the sights, sounds and experiences of physically being there in person is invaluable and the relationships formed through this journey are often long-lasting,” says Mr Davey.

Last year 109 Churchill Fellowships were awarded with a combined value of over $2.9 million.

Apply Now Applications close Friday 27 April 2018.


Written by Paula Hedemann, Media and Public Affairs Group Queensland Police Service
Edited and adapted by the Churchill Trust


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