Theatrical intervention raises curtain on domestic violence

17 Apr 2019

Interactive theatre could help to prevent domestic violence by encouraging young people to develop safe and respectful relationships, researchers say.

The University of Queensland study examined whether interactive theatre performances were able to help young people understand the social and cultural influences that might lead to domestic violence.

UQ School of Public Health researcher Emma Heard said the study was conducted in Samoa, which experiences high levels of intimate partner violence.

“Sexual and relationship health promotion campaigns in Samoa are not accessible to young people for cultural and social reasons,” Ms Heard said.

“We had to look at innovative and culturally acceptable ways of helping young people reflect on their own attitudes and behaviours within relationships.”

The interactive play, designed to provide the audience with a safe space to examine the social and cultural influences affecting intimate relationships was performed to approximately 50 young Samoans.

Researchers then conducted focus groups with audience members and found they were deeply affected by the performances.

Ms Heard said participants reported being better able to reflect on their own attitudes and approaches to intimate relationships.

“Our study showed the play helped participants talk about how they might initiate and maintain relationships free from violence,” Ms Heard said.

“Seeing and hearing the perspectives of others helped them to explore their own emotions and how they relate to an intimate partner.

“Importantly though, physically interacting with the performance gave them the courage to try new approaches.”

Ms Heard believes interactive theatre could also help young Australians, with one in six women experiencing violence from a current or former intimate partner.

“It was amazing to see how our intervention helped young Samoans to open up and talk about issues relating to domestic violence,” she said.

“Interventions like these could provide an important avenue to help challenge social gender roles and expectations that support gender inequality and violence against women in Australia.”

This study is published in the Sex Education journal. DOI: 10.1080/14681811.2019.1597697

Media: Ms Emma Heard, 422 458 104; Faculty of Medicine Communications,, +61 7 3365 5118.