Australian Institute of Criminology

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1993 award winners

Secondary awards

"I Know That Now" Puppet Theatre : Dympna House Child Sexual Assault Prevention Program

This project aims to teach protective strategies to children in the 6-12 years age group through the medium of puppet theatre, to reduce their vulnerability to child sexual assault. The show is used as part of an ongoing child protection curriculum in use in NSW Government schools. The New South Wales Child Protection Council funded the puppet show.

In the plot, ten-year-old Joanne Spinoza tells her friend Nam, who is eight, about how she was assaulted some years previously by her step-dad. "He bought me presents, and took me places. My mum and I trusted him, but then he tricked me!" she tells Nam. The audience is encouraged to join in singing the theme song of the show "My Body Rap". Opportunities to ask questions of Joanne and Nam are provided within the show.

Joanne provides a positive role model in that she talks about her abuse; she is safe in talking about her abuse to Nam, who portrays the role of a good friend who won't "blab" to the other kids and is able to confide in trusted adults. The message is simply and clearly summarised in the "No, Go, Tell" strategy. It is delivered in language which is simple, clear and in the vernacular of the children.

The key messages communicated through the puppet show are that it is hard for children to say "no" to abuse, because they often receive messages that they should do as adults tell them and in the case of sexual abuse, they are often manipulated into situations which make it even more difficult to refuse to comply. The show stresses that it is OK to say "no" to an adult who is touching them in a way they don't like. It also demonstrates that saying "no" is usually not enough to stop the abuse, that it is also necessary to tell a trusted adult, and that if that adult doesn't believe or help them, they must keep trying until help is found.


The main themes are that sexual assault is never the child's fault; that nothing is so awful that you can't talk about it to someone you trust; and that everyone has a right to feel safe all the time. Active and assertive strategies for dealing with and avoiding abuse are demonstrated with sensitivity, humour and frankness through the puppet characters.

The project was independently evaluated to assess content, clarity of message, adaptability and the outcomes for the children. Children, parents, school personnel and expert consultants were involved in the evaluations. The evaluation concluded that the puppet show was successful in achieving a range of aims. The short-term effect identified included:

  • raising of awareness of the issue of child sexual abuse and of approaches which may be used by offenders;
  • helping children to learn to trust their feelings;
  • helping children to begin to explore ways in which they can say no;
  • helping children gain confidence to tell a trusted adult if they ever feel threatened;
  • helping children who have been abused gain the confidence to tell someone, and to persist until they are heard; and
  • providing a non-threatening focus around which children can discuss aspects of child abuse with peers, teachers or parents.

The longer term effects identified included:

  • a lessening of the likelihood that a child will be abused;
  • the development of a greater appreciation of rights and responsibilities in relationships; and
  • the development of a positive attitude to human relationships, with future implications for the incidence of sexual harassment, domestic violence and other forms of interpersonal violence.

At the time of application for the Award, the show had been seen by 49 000 children and 5 500 adults in New South Wales. It was performed in infants and primary schools, for community groups, and in inservice training for teachers and others working with children and families.

The show received widespread acclaim from children, teachers and parents alike, for the positive way in which it deals with issues relating to child sexual assault. Parents are encouraged to attend performances through a flyer which is sent out prior to each performance, describing the show. Through the active participation of parents, discussion of the issues raised in the show can be continued at home.

Some of the comments from the audience were:

I liked the puppet show about Joanne and Nam and how it told you to keep on telling people until someone listens to you. Year 3 girl from Point Clare Public School.

When are they coming again? It was great! Year 6 boy, Bundarra Central School.

I liked all of it because they were telling you what to do if it happened to you. Year 3 boy, Penrith South Primary School.

Now I've seen the show, I can sit down and talk with my kids about stuff we probably wouldn't have before. Parent.

I could really relate to the show. I was abused myself as a kid and I think it is really important that we teach our kids what to do. Parent.

The show is only performed to schools which have implemented the New South Wales child protection curriculum. This means that there is ample opportunity for discussion of the issues raised prior to the show, and as a follow-up, so that concepts can be consolidated and the theme of child protection promoted within an ongoing framework.

Rip and Tear Theatre

Rip and Tear Theatre was an initiative of the Burnie City Council, the Department of Corrections and the federal Youth Bureau (a part of the Commonwealth Department of Employment, Education and Training), to assist young offenders and youth "at risk".

Through the intensity of a stage experience, the project aimed to develop self-esteem and to build communication skills. The public display of the transformation of the young people involved was also able to alter the community's conventional perceptions of "at risk" youth.

The dual goals of the project were:

  • to produce experimental arts based work, of excellent quality which challenge and provoke the public and the arts community; and
  • to provide an environment appropriate to the needs of the marginalised, and structures where they can genuinely achieve, be rewarded and undergo periods of intense personal growth.

The group of young offenders had generally come from a range of backgrounds involving violence, from domestic violence to sexual abuse, and often saw violence as a first option in resolving frustration and conflict. Many participants had difficulty breaking out of a violent culture. The dynamics and norms involved in the Rip and Tear Theatre provided alternative models of problem solving.


Tasmania has the lowest level of high school retention rates in Australia, and also has 40 per cent youth unemployment. The community had experienced high levels of vandalism and juvenile crime, and the highest level of gun-related teenage suicide in the country.

Some of the group had long histories of petty crime. It is a testimony to the success of the project that only one offence was committed during the life of the play check.

Rip and Tear Theatre's first play was called "Girl" and dealt with issues relating to rape, male rage, the violence of inappropriate education, violent aspects of home life, pyromania and community violence. The script was developed from the lives of group members, and shows the three personalities of a girl who had never had a birthday party. It was described as a "moving and disturbing" story. The second production, "Pandora Slams the Lid" focussed upon HIV and safe sex practices. These themes enable the participants to dramatise and critically assess aspects of daily life which arise for the particular group concerned, and enable the audience to better understand the lifestyles and dilemmas which confront some groups of youth in Tasmania.

Throughout the project, the participants were given every opportunity to experience the many vocations and skills necessary for getting a production together, such as using the press; writing press releases; and taking photographs. The participants learned to design and build stage sets, to make props from paper and bricks, and to work together on the script. The project was also challenging because of the personal demands involved, which included being creative; responding to self-criticism and group criticism; providing positive feedback to others and themselves; responding to authority; and pursuing personal and group goals.

"Theatre in many ways is just the hook that catches young people and gets their interest", said a member of the evaluation team. The project aims to "rip up" any negative preconceptions regarding the participants' potential to make a positive contribution to the community.

The shows were performed to audiences in 20 schools, as well as local communities. The performers are hoping to be able to take the shows on tour, and to accept an invitation to perform at the Australian Drama Festival in Canberra in 1994 to promote awareness of HIV/AIDS.

The production received a very enthusiastic response from the media, and was covered on the "7.30 Report", the arts program review on ABC TV, and on TVT Channel 6. It was also reviewed nationally in The Bulletin, and in the Mercury, the Examiner and the Advocate in Tasmania.

Parks Area Safety Network (PASN)

The Parks Area Safety Network is a Crime Prevention project funded by the South Australian Attorney-General's Department Crime Prevention Unit. The area covered by the Network, known as the Parks Area, is in the Enfield B local government area. Many residents are unemployed, of low socioeconomic status and frequently of non-English speaking backgrounds. The Enfield B area is characterised by a much higher level of reported violent assaults and property offences than the average for South Australia. The level of reported violent offences was 2.5 times the State average.

The Network was an initiative of local members of the community and service providers. The aim of the Network is to reduce violence in the community by building on the strengths already existing in the community and by providing greater opportunity for local people to work together and be involved in local decision making. This in turn enhances the capacity of local residents to develop projects which address violence at the community level.

The Parks Area Safety Network is one of 22 local area plans operating in South Australia under the State's crime prevention strategy. Each plan went through an initial research and planning stage, the results of which were documented in the plan. The plan was then negotiated with the Minister and local hosting bodies prior to the release of funding. The Enfield B community was allocated an amount of up to $125 000 for implementation of the two-year strategy, subject to the Minister's approval.

Part of the State strategy encourages each community to focus specifically on the particular needs and abilities of the local community. Though the issues are often similar between communities, the plans therefore differ in the way they are developed and implemented.


The Nunga community in the Parks, for example, is concerned about the self-esteem of its young people and how they are treated by police and prison warders. Many see the problem as the result of two centuries of racial discrimination and outmoded assumptions. The problem of the well-being of young people also concerns the Anglo community, but there it is seen as the result of violence experienced by young people in the home.

The Steering Committee for the Parks Area Safety Network was made up of a group of people from local community services, and some local residents. The Principles of Operation for the Parks Area Network Association, endorsed by the Management Group, were developed into the following guidelines:

  • The project should aim to be self-sustaining once funding ceases.
  • It should demonstrate local community needs.
  • There should be 75 per cent community ownership.
  • Easy access for the community.
  • It needs to benefit the community across Enfield B.
  • No project should expose participants to potentially violent situations.
  • If service providers are working with a project it needs to be in a partnership with the community.
  • Demonstrate how the project could reduce crime, increase safety and promotion of community development.
  • The project needs to be linked with core groups.
  • Projects should have the potential to link in with other activities being developed within the safety network strategy.
  • Funding cannot be used for general service provision or projects being funded from another source.
  • Incorporate the social justice principles (eg. easy access, acceptance of people's differences, fairness).
  • Accepting of racial, cultural, age, religious, gender, disability and wealth differences.

The Network currently has five funded projects and ten groups which only require support, rather than funding, or are still in the developmental stage.

The James Busby High School Welfare Program

The James Busby High School Welfare Program (NSW) is a school-based program to modify behaviour and to teach non-violent responses to difficult situations.

James Busby High School is a culturally diverse school, situated eight kilometres west of Liverpool, between the residential suburbs of Busby and Green Valley. With a local population from a low socioeconomic background with high unemployment, the school is on the Disadvantaged Schools Program. New housing estates on three sides of the school are contributing to a rise in student population, and over 50 per cent of students come from families with a background language other than English. Most members of the teaching staff of 70 are in their first appointment.

The James Busby High School's Welfare Program is aimed at eliminating all forms of harassment from school life so that the school can function in a caring, safe and non- threatening environment. The Program has developed strategies to modify behaviour and to teach alternative non-violent responses such as conflict resolution and peer mediation, and to support the families to find alternative solutions to problematic behaviour. The number of student suspensions dropped by 18 per cent from 1991 to mid 1993.

The program combines effective reactive measures against perpetrators of violence with positive initiatives to bring about long-term changes in behaviour. It operates in several ways.

First, the school has implemented an Anti-Harassment Policy which is embedded in the school's culture. Second, training of staff and development of programs in Conflict Resolution and Peer Mediation helps students to develop the skills to resolve their differences in an assertive but non-violent way, and the extension of this program into the feeder primary schools helps to target students at risk before their problems become insurmountable. Third, Goldstein's Prepare Curriculum is used for students with a history of violence to help them modify their behaviour.

Violence involving students and threats of violence and verbal abuse of teachers are the two most common reasons for suspension, and students know that the consequence of acts or threats of violence will be severe school sanctions. Analysis of the four schools, including James Busby High School, in the Hoxton Park cluster indicated that suspension from school was a deterrent to violence for 75 per cent of students suspended, in that for this group it involved one suspension only in one year. Another 136 students, or 17 per cent, had two suspensions while 8 per cent had three or four in one year. Ninety-four per cent of suspensions, however, were resolved by parent interview. Only 6 per cent resulted in the student exiting the school.

The Special Care Correctional Program

The Special Care Correctional Centre is a program run by the New South Wales Department of Corrective Services. It is a maximum security correctional centre which operates as a therapeutic community with the aim of providing cost-effective programs to assist inmates to modify their attitudes and behaviour. When it commenced in 1981 it was the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and it is anticipated that, when the Conflict Resolution Unit is operational, it will be the first of its type in the world. One of its unique features is the involvement of custodial staff in program delivery.

The Centre consists of three units. The first, the Special Care Unit, provides inmates with behavioural problems with the opportunity to actively examine their self-defeating behaviour, as well as affording them an opportunity to implement changes and to accept responsibility for their actions and decisions. The second, the Crisis Support Unit, provides assistance to suicidal and self-mutilating inmates. The third, the Lifestyles Unit, provides education programs for inmates with HIV. The programs enable staff to work with inmates with behavioural problems away from normal correctional centre routine.

A fourth component of the Special Care Centre is currently being developed. This is a Conflict Management Unit to cater for inmates with a history of violence towards staff and other inmates. It will address issues such as anger, stress management and conflict resolution.

The main key to success of the Centre's programs is the acquisition of skills by inmates to manage their behaviour and their continued use of these skills. In some cases, inmates who have been in the Centre become advocates for other prisoners on their return to normal correctional discipline, thereby breaking down the barriers of hostility and aggression that tend to prevail. Their increased self-confidence enables them to act as agents for others who lack the necessary communication skills and self-control to take the role without being labelled as troublemakers. Evidence gathered from structured interviews with inmates indicates that after experience in the Special Care Centre, many are able to communicate better with correctional officers and lose the mistrust and hostility which often exists in a correctional setting.

Many inmates have found it easier to cope as a result of the skills acquired in the Special Care Centre. Some have reassessed their attitude towards correctional officers following the establishment of enhanced relationships with officers in the Special Care Centre. Inmates who have been through the Centre are more likely to adopt a conciliatory attitude instead of employing a confrontationist approach in dealing with authority figures, or resorting to violence or self-harm.

Compulsory HIV testing in correctional centres and the integration of inmates diagnosed HIV positive into the mainstream population has meant that the Department is dealing with a number of inmates who are aware of their HIV positive status. This carries considerable potential for problems, assaults and aggression towards infected inmates or by infected inmates. By helping HIV positive inmates to come to terms with their affliction, the Lifestyles Program is not only contributing to the reduction of transmission of the virus but also to the future impact of the HIV/AIDS problem in the correctional system.

The Centre's programs are designed with the aim of retraining correctional officers, of assisting them to learn effective strategies for communicating and working with prisoners. The correctional officers' conceptions of their role is thereby expanded. Correctional officers, upon completing their term with the Centre, return to the general prison system and are encouraged to put into practice the newly acquired knowledge, skills and expertise. The Centre trains staff and enables them to prevent or reduce violence by working with inmates with behavioural problems away from normal correctional centre discipline. Staff also assist inmates to develop their own goals for personal change before their return to the general inmate population.