​In Australia, one in three women will be the subject of violence in her life time. Those at greatest risk are women aged 15-45; in fact, they are more at risk from domestic violence than they are from smoking and obesity.

In recent years, violence prevention has become a central focus of community and government efforts to address men’s violence against women. This reflects the recognition that we must not only respond to the victims and perpetrators of violence, but also work to prevent violence from occurring in the first place.

Engaging and mobilising faith communities has become an important aspect of violence prevention work. The focus of churches on spiritual well-being and pastoral care creates a natural link to the goals of health promotion and primary prevention.

In 2011, training resources were developed by the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne with VicHealth, a leading health-care provider, to support parishes in the work of preventing violence against women. The Anglican Peer Mentor Program is one of these resources, a unique education package that puts local clergy and laity at the heart of prevention efforts.

This peer-directed curriculum consists of six conversations on a series of topics. For each topic there are reading resources, questions for discussion and suggestions for community action. The program can be undertaken over six months, with one conversation a month or it can be compacted into a six-week course.

Rosemary McCoy, a participant in the 2013 program, was asked about the benefits and challenges. “I had no idea how vast the problem is. Of course I always knew it was a problem but didn’t know the extent of it in our community,” she said. “It has allowed me to talk about it and I’m surprised at the level of interest.

"When I spoke at church, at our annual meeting, it generated a lot of interest and about two weeks later two male parishioners approached me wanting to learn more.”

The appointment of Cassie Calder, the first parish Peer Mentor in Violence Prevention, marks an exciting new stage in the development of the program. Twenty-one parishes in the Diocese of Melbourne are now engaged in preventing violence against women at a local level.

The Revd Professor Dorothy Lee, Dean of Trinity College Theological School at the University of Melbourne, remarked on the positive approach of the program.

“It is not intended as a diatribe against violence but rather focuses on analysing the problem and then developing and assessing strategies for its prevention,” Professor Lee said.

"Its intention is positive action to bring such violence against women to an end. This program is a vital aspect of our mission as Anglican Christians in the Diocese of Melbourne. We need to take seriously this program for change, if we are truly to bring the light of the gospel into the world we live in.”

For more information about this program, contact Dr Ree Boddé, The Anglican Centre, 209 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, Victoria 3000, Australia; or through Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Anglicans-Helping-To-Prevent-Violence-Against-Women/367961126547383