Young people as agents of change on domestic violence


You are in an archived section of the AIFS website 


Content type
Short article

September 2017


Karen Struthers, Clare Tilbury

There is an unprecedented national commitment to tackle domestic violence through the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children 2010-2022.1 A major feature of this plan is the recognition that gender-based violence is preventable—primarily by building gender-equality and more respectful attitudes and behaviours among young people through school and community-wide strategies.2

In response, young people are emerging not only as targets for change, but also as agents of change in domestic violence prevention strategies. The young people leading a unique youth participation, peer-to-peer domestic violence prevention initiative, R4Respect, are striving to generate change—and their efforts are showing promising results.3

Why a peer-to-peer approach?

A 2015 youth attitude survey showed that 1 in 4 young people think it’s pretty normal for guys to pressure girls into sex, and 16 percent of young people think that women should know their place.4

These findings prompted YFS Ltd—a non-government multi-service agency in Logan, Queensland—to research how young people educating their peers through a youth participation model might be useful in domestic violence prevention. Four significant findings influenced YFS to trial a youth participation strategy with adults as mentors and young people as peer educators. These include:

  • Youth wellbeing and social development can improve when young people are active in social change.5
  • The impact of domestic violence prevention programs can be enhanced when developed in collaboration with young people, with robust evaluations to determine which interventions work and which specific groups they work for.6
  • Peer-led interventions can be effective in influencing young people.7
  • Young people are most engaged in a space where they are most comfortable, which is often online. Using digital technologies can help foster young people’s active participation.8

As part of the youth partnership strategy, YFS developed a peer-to-peer model, R4Respect, in which young people promote respectful relationships messages among their peers in group settings and online.

Beginning in November 2015, 15 young people joined the program as Youth Ambassadors, and were provided with training and skills development to prepare them for the role.  Sixteen months later, the Youth Ambassadors have:

  • spoken with over 3,800 young people about respect in relationships,
  • participated in more than 40 community events, and
  • continued to grow their online following.

Evaluating the youth participation model

In 2016, YFS partnered with Griffith University to conduct a process evaluationi of the youth participation model.9 The Youth Ambassadors and 10 adult stakeholders interviewed as part of this process reported that the model is:

  • Building the skills and confidence of the Youth Ambassadors as peer educators.
  • Reaching a wide range of young people with information about domestic violence, respectful relationships, and where young people can go for help.

A survey developed by the Youth Ambassadors showed that 89.5% of participating high school students believed the program had given them a better understanding of respectful relationships and domestic violence.10

The Youth Ambassadors and adult stakeholders recognised the young people in R4Respect need ongoing training, support and a stable funding base. The adult stakeholders were particularly encouraging of more training and adult mentoring for the Youth Ambassadors— stating that the complexity of gender-based violence can be difficult for young people to convey, and for their peers to grasp.

This evaluation process also allowed the Youth Ambassadors and adult stakeholders to identify areas of improvement. Youth Ambassadors reported a need for clearer roles and equal sharing of workloads within their group. Adult stakeholders identified the need for youth participants to be better trained to handle disclosures of harm from their peers, and encouraged YFS to maintain a high level of support and training with the young people.11

Next steps for young people as leaders of change

For this unique youth participation and peer education model for DV prevention to grow and develop, the evaluation indicated that recurrent funding is an essential element. This will enable an increase in the level of training, support and co-ordination with the Youth Ambassador group. The planned outcomes evaluation will also provide feedback to guide the future design and functioning of the youth model. For now, the young people are motivated and making a good start with their youth-friendly engagement activities and information.

The R4Respect Youth Ambassadors say that they fight back their nerves before stepping out into classrooms. They do it, according to one Youth Ambassador, because “…we like the contact with young people… and if young people keep quiet, not a whole lot will change.”


  1. Australian Government, 2016. National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children 2010-2022. Department of Social Services, Canberra.
  2. Our Watch (2015a). Respectful relationships education. Evidence paper.
  3. Struthers, K., & Williams, G. (2017). Principled action by young people: R4Respect. Queensland Review, 24(1), 100-115. doi:10.1017/qre.2017.13; Struthers, K., Tilbury, C., & Williams, G. (2017). Young People Leading Change in Domestic Violence Prevention: R4Respect. Children Australia. Accepted for publication.
  4. Our Watch (2015b). The Line Campaign. Survey of Research Findings. Hall & Partners/ Open Mind. May.
  5. UNICEF (2012). Evaluation of Adolescents as agents of positive change program 2005-2011. Phase One and Two. United Nations Children’s Fund Middle East and North Africa Regional Office;  Walker, D., Pereznieto, P., Bergh, G., & Smith, K. (2014). Young People and Governance in a Post-2015 World. Overseas Development Institute (ODI), Plan UK and Restless Development; Wong, N., Zimmerman, M., & Parker, E. (2010). A typology of youth participation and empowerment for child and adolescent health promotion. American Journal of Community Psychology, 46(1-2), 100-14; Zeldin, S., Krauss, S., Collura, J., Lucchesi, M., & Sulaiman, A. (2014). Conceptualizing and Measuring Youth–Adult Partnership in Community Programs: A Cross National Study. American Journal of Community Psychology, 54, 337–34.
  6. Stanley, N., Ellis, J., Farrelly, N., Hollinghurst, S., Bailey, S., & Downe, S. (2015). Preventing domestic abuse for children and young people (PEACH): a mixed knowledge scoping review. Southampton (UK): NIHR Journals Library; 2015 Jun. Public Health Research, 3(7)
  7. Denison, J., Tsui, S., Bratt, J., Torpey, K., Weaver, M., & Kabaso, M. (2012). Do peer educators make a difference? An evaluation of a youth-led HIV prevention model in Zambian Schools. Health Education Research, 27 (2), 237-247.
  8. Anker, A., Reinhart, A., & Feeley, T. (2011). Health information seeking: a review of measures and methods. Patient Education and Counselling, 82, 3, 346–54.
  9. Struthers, Tilbury & Williams, 2017; Struthers & Williams, 2017.
  10.  YFS (2017). R4Respect Evaluation Summary.
  11. Struthers, Tilbury & Williams, 2017; Struthers & Williams, 2017


i. At the time of writing, an outcomes evaluation has not been conducted. The aim is to conduct an outcomes evaluation as research funding becomes available.

Feature image supplied by YFS Ltd.