AVO app ‘Bernie’ to help address domestic violence reoffending

Tuesday, 28 November 2017


Researchers have developed a mobile phone application named Bernie to support defendants issued with Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders (ADVOs) to strengthen their positive decision-making around behaviours and emotions.

Dr Colin James, Mrs Sher Campbell and Dr Lynne McCormack

Approximately 15 per cent of people charged with a domestic violence assault reoffend within 12 months. Of those who reoffend, almost half do so before the court process has been finalised.

It is hoped the user-friendly app, developed by psychology and law researchers at the University of Newcastle (UON) and Australian National University (ANU), will be a successful early-intervention tool to support better outcomes.

Importantly, it reminds defendants how to comply with court orders, aimed at providing safety to partners and family members.

Intimate partner violence is the leading contributor to death, disability and ill health in Australian women aged 15-44. Over a 12-month period, an average of one woman is killed every week by a current or former partner. Domestic violence is the principle cause of homelessness for women and children, with violence against women estimated to cost the Australian economy $21.7b each year.

Bernie’s team includes clinical psychologist and UON newly-appointed Associate Professor Lynne McCormack, UON law lecturer and member of the Executive of NSW Women Lawyers’ Association, Ms Sher Campbell, and UON Conjoint Dr Colin James, solicitor and senior lecturer from the ANU College of Law, School of Legal Practice at the Australian National University.

The team is seeking support and endorsement to trial the app in Newcastle. Besides the legal and psycho-educational resources, Berniealso provides contact numbers for counselling, legal advice, and financial and housing assistance. There is an emergency button for accessing immediate behavioural prompts during stressful situations.  In the future, the aim is to provide users with the opportunity to receive appointment reminders and court dates.

“Bernie is a digital resource that can be in a defendant’s pocket at all times and can help reinforce the practical and legal information given by lawyers - information that is often forgotten due to heightened anxiety in court,” Associate Professor Lynne McCormack said.

“We have designed Bernie to support the information defendants receive at court and to help keep family members safe. The behavioural-education information reinforces responsibility for: behaviours that negatively impact on others; making healthier and safer choices; and how to seek professional help to begin the process of positive change.

“The immediate behavioural prompt button, once pressed, provides reminders to manage accelerating emotions, move away from any potentially high-risk situation, and to seek professional assistance.”

The project is the result of the NSW Government’s Innovation Launch Program, which provided a $150,000 grant from the NSW Department of Finance, Services and Innovation to develop the mobile phone app. The Bernie team contracted Newcastle-based app developer Mudbath Pty Ltd to build the app during the incubation period.

The incubation program provided by Fusion Labs included access to mentors and subject matter experts, education and support, as well as networking opportunities with potential partners and investors.